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July 4, 2012Robert Marve thought he was going to die.
Sprawled out in the backseat of his new Dodge Charger on a trip from Tampa to Miami in July 2007, Marve was jarred awake from a nap and realized the car was going extremely fast.
He wasn't sure what was happening but knew it wasn't right.
He felt like he was floating.
"I remember telling the Lord, 'I don't think I'm going to make it,'" Marve says now.
Then he lost consciousness.
By the time he woke up again, the car was a crumpled mess. It was upside down and on its side alongside I-75 near Naples, Fla. A bloodied Marve was able to struggle to get free. But once out of the car, he looked down at his left hand, and his fingers were crossing at odd angles, hand bleeding profusely.
At the hospital, nurses and doctors were pulling twigs and debris from his hand. Marve had broken two bones in his wrist, fractured three fingers and ultimately lost the knuckle on his ring finger and lost all feeling in that finger.
Marve later learned that the accident was caused after the driver, friend and fellow Miami recruit Jermaine McKenzie, fell asleep at the wheel. The car reached speeds of nearly 100 mph, went off the road, flipped seven to 10 times and then hit 9 feet high on a tree before sliding down, Marve said.
He had to have multiple surgeries on the hand, including one to add more skin to a clump of skin on his palm to prevent the wound from breaking open and bleeding.
"It was definitely the worst pain I've ever been through," Marve said last month, on the eve on his final season playing quarterback for Purdue, in an interview for Gold & Black Illustrated's football preview issue.
"The rehab was the worst. They put a cast from (fingers) to (wrist). My whole arm peeled and when it peels, your skin is very sensitive, so you bruise easy. Your fingers don't work. So what they do is, I have scar tissue on two of the fingers, so they have to grind out the scar tissue. It hurts real bad. For your fingers to work, they have to physically bend them. That's horrible.
"That went on for about six months."
The accident resulted in much more than physical pain.
The injury prevented Marve from starting his college football career at Miami on time, a devastating development considering he was coming off being Mr. Football in Florida and considered one of the best players in the country at his position.
Not being able to play sent him into an emotional spiral.
"I was upset about everything," he says now. "I was in a bad place mentally. That was a rough start. It was the first time in my life I really didn't have football around, so I started going out a lot more and experimenting around, I guess."
Even by the time Marve's hand had essentially healed - he still doesn't have feeling in his ring finger and the hand is significantly scarred - and he was starting as a redshirt freshman, he quickly realized he wasn't in the right place.
Marve said the "city life" grabbed hold, and it was too fast for him.
He was suspended for two games that season, once after being arrested and another for an academic issue, and ultimately sought a transfer.
"I think I just wasn't ready to be the starting quarterback at a big-time school at a big-time situation," Marve said. "I definitely didn't react good to my first injury I had. I thought the world was going to end. Funny enough, I had to go through a couple more where now I look at them much different. I was hurting a little bit.
"If I wasn't playing football, I really didn't care about nothing else at the time. I really didn't worry about school. I knew when I transferred, that was something I had to stay focused on, no matter what happened on the field. Stay focused on school and to get my degree."
When Marve transferred to Purdue in 2009, he felt some fans saw him as a troublemaker and a potential problem for the team. He knew people thought he was a good talent but heard the talk mostly of his off-field incidents.
He felt like the "quarterback from Miami" and not associated as a Boilermaker.
Not that his teammates felt that way.
Tommie Thomas, who became roommates with Marve shortly after his arrival, said he was excited when he first heard Marve was considering Purdue. And from the first moment they met, they clicked as friends.
"He opened up really quick," Thomas said. "We were like, 'OK, what type of guy is he really?' Once we got him here, and other than seeing him as a football player, is he one of those cocky guys? He was a nice guy. He never came off as one of those overconfident guys because I'm coming from the University of Miami all the way to Purdue. He never came off as cocky.
"He's always been a down-to-earth guy, easy to talk to."
But Marve knew he needed to make changes.
He started by attacking school, taking advantage of the resources offered by Purdue. He evolved into a good student, improving from being what he called barely eligible at Miami to maintaining a 3.0 GPA while at Purdue. He'll graduate in July.
Thomas said he's seen Marve mature over the last three years, too, by making better choices off the field. It's helped having a tight-knit group of friends to rely on.
"He's not a troubled person," said Thomas, specifically addressing what he calls one of the public's misconceptions of his friend. "He had his troubles in the past. Everybody goes through growing pains. Of course he had his troubles in the past, but what has he done here that he did in Miami? Nothing. He's just like everybody else."
Especially now that he's healthy. And Marve, who's recovered from two knee injuries since 2009, hopes that will allow him to finish his career in West Lafayette with a flourish on the field.
But maybe more important, he hopes to stay happy off it.
"(My career) definitely has had a lot of ups and downs," Marve said. "But I wouldn't trade the Miami experience for anything. I got to play on a big-time level against Florida State, beat a Virginia Tech team that year, Georgia Tech. We played some teams that were top-25 teams in the nation. Texas A&M at A&M and we played the Gators at the Swamp. It was so much fun.
"I really think the time I've had at Purdue has made me grow up and kind of calm down a little bit and hopefully try to put the pieces together to have a good year coming up."
For more on Marve's journey, specifically how he's overcome his injury-riddled Purdue career, grab a copy of Gold & Black Illustrated's football preview issue on sale now for a special discounted rate.
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