Antonio Marshall suspects a basket might be waiting to "surprise" him upon returning to the team hotel tonight in Tucson, Ariz.
The Quad City Steamwheelers cornerback also guesses this Father's Day gift will be loaded with assorted fruits and vegetables picked by his children from his grand mother's garden.
However, only Marshall can help deliver the missing ingredient to make everything taste a little sweeter.
"We just want to get this 'W' and keep the season rolling," Marshall said ahead of tonight's regular-season finale between two of the three teams fighting for the final two playoff spots in the Indoor Football League.
A win by the 'Wheelers (6-7) at Tucson (6-7), or a loss by Nebraska (6-7) at the Iowa Barnstormers (12-1), clinches a postseason berth for QC.
"I know my family badly wants us to win," said Marshall, a father of five children, ages 8 to newborn. "They'd love to have me home earlier than next month, but they want us to get a ring and make all of this sacrifice worth it."
Marshall has been away from home only since mid-April. The Georgia native was due in QC's training camp back in February, but his arrival was delayed by his son Antonio Jr.'s birth in December and a family emergency in January.
"My mom fractured a rib," explained Marshall, who relies on his mother and grand mother to help raise his children.
"So I had to stay home until she healed up. But she was the first one to tell me, 'Call Coach (Cory) Ross. Get out of here. Quad City needs you.'"
Marshall's mother Rena was right.
The 'Wheelers have won four games since the former Indiana starter joined in time to play in a 72-54 victory April 20 over Tucson at the TaxSlayer Center.
Marshall leads the IFL in fumble recoveries (4), plus added his second interception last weekend. He also has 25 tackles and 4 pass breakups in seven games.
"It takes a lot of sacrifice to do this," Marshall said, noting $200-per-week IFL paychecks require players to augment their incomes with a second job.
"It's hard being away from family, especially kids so young, so the No. 1 thing is the support system. My kids are 95-percent of the time with my mother and grandmother, so that allows me to stay focused."
Marshall handles long-distance dad duties by talking daily with his children, including a FaceTime iPhone session with his oldest, 8-year-old daughter Aubrii.
The 28-year-old used that same strategy to survive the 2017 season, when Marshall played for now-defunct Colorado in the IFL. His 2016 rookie campaign was derailed by a training-camp injury in Nebraska.
You have free articles remaining.
After 2017, though, Marshall believed his football-playing days were over. With son Aiden (4) and daughter Karli (3) also toddling around at that time, daughter Anari was born that August, and his newborn son soon was on the radar, too.
"I had kids I needed to feed, so I just put my head down and worked," said Marshall, who sat out the 2018 season.
"But my family kept pushing me, and so did the high school and college kids I coached and worked with as a personal trainer back home. My oldest daughter even came to me and said she wanted to see me back on the field. It's hard, but all of that support is why I'm here."
That same sort of family support is how Marshall's teenage mom finished high school, graduated from college and established a better life for herself with Marshall raised by his grandparents, Richard and Mary Troutman.
Marshall also received his family's backing during the lowest point of his life in 2013, when he was dismissed from the team prior to his senior season at Indiana.
"I made a couple of dumb decisions, receiving improper benefits," said Marshall, who picked off a pair of passes as a junior, including one again Iowa.
"A guy who wanted to be my agent got me some cash to live on and let me drive a car for a semester. That's stuff I shouldn't have been doing. When he came to me wanting me to sign, I'm like, I can't do that until after the season.
"He didn't like that answer, so he threatened to go to the NCAA if I didn't sign. I remember him telling me, 'You're committing football suicide.' He turned me in and that blew up everything."
So instead of improving his pro stock, Marshall was forced to watch from the sidelines as his brother Nick quarterbacked Auburn to a national title.
Marshall transferred to Division II Miles College, two hours away from home in Alabama, but a strong finish failed to garner NFL interest like his brother, who signed a free-agent deal to switch to cornerback with Jacksonville.
"It's my biggest regret," Marshall said of his mistake at Indiana, "but I learned so much from it. I tell kids all of the time now to remember your morals and values.
"That stuff you wouldn't do with your parents and grandparents watching? Don't do it behind their backs, either."
After this season, Marshall dreams of joining his brother in the CFL, with Nick climbing back up the pro ladder after last season in IFL Arizona.
He's also looking forward to reuniting with his children, who attended last weekend's game with Marshall's mother and grand mother, making a special journey to celebrate Father's Day early with a trip to the TBK Bank Sports Complex.
"We played arcade games, went bowling, and played Laser Tag," Marshall said. "We went to the donut shop. We went to the movies. We did everything we could think of. It was the best Father's Day ever."