IV Marsh hesitated before using football language to explain why he expects Auburn to win the Iron Bowl on Saturday.
“Tua is hurt,” he said referring to Alabama starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. “Our offense is a work in progress, but the defense is second to none.”
His wife, Bene, had a little different explanation for why Auburn will win.
“It’s not about the skill set,” she said. “It’s about the love, commitment and family unit that exists on this team.”
The Marsh couple — both pastors at Epic Church in Decatur — recently discussed the game and a dramatic faith conversion that was sparked in part by medical issues their son Josh, now an Auburn linebacker, had as an infant.
Self-described football junkies, Bene and IV will attend the Iron Bowl for the fourth time Saturday when Alabama and Auburn play for the 84th time. CBS is televising the game and kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Josh, a redshirt freshman at Auburn, did not play in last year’s game because of a knee injury, but this didn’t stop his parents from making the journey to Tuscaloosa.
Until last year, they had never seen Auburn lose to Alabama in person. The late Benny Perrin — a family friend and former Alabama player — carried the Marshes to their first Iron Bowl in 2010 when Tigers quarterback Can Newton led Auburn to a 28-27 come-from-behind win.
Bene said they were in a suite with former Alabama players and Perrin made them wear neutral colors.
“We had our Auburn T-shirts under sweaters,” she said with a laugh.
They attended their next Iron Bowl in 2017 when Josh was on a recruiting trip. Auburn advanced to the SEC championship game by beating No. 1 Alabama 26-14.
“I’ve never seen Alabama beat us in Jordan-Hare,” Bene said.
While football has been a significant part of their lives, there are two conversions that define the Marsh family.
One happened when IV and Bene married on April 19, 1994, and she surrendered her allegiance to Alabama for Auburn.
The other happened in late 1998 when IV was having what he called a “cussing fit” with God on Interstate 65 while driving his Hartselle Police Department patrol car.
IV and Bene are both from Limestone County and didn’t start dating until they were students at the University of North Alabama. He went to Tanner and she graduated from Clements. IV was from a family of Auburn fans and Bene’s family was “Roll Tide all the way,” she said.
After playing two seasons at UNA, IV left college to join the Air Force. He was stationed in Panama for three years during the “war on drugs” with his wife and first son, Garrett, who also played college football at Kentucky Christian and UNA before a shoulder injury ended his career.
IV returned with his family to the states in 1998 and was in Wyoming preparing to sign a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans after the team moved to Nashville when he suffered a heart attack.
“I was 25,” he said.
His wife was also pregnant with Josh, who despite weighing 6 pounds and 1 ounce at birth, was born three months early.
Josh was flown by helicopter from Decatur Morgan Hospital to the neo-natal unit at Huntsville Hospital where he spent two weeks on a ventilator.
“I kept telling IV he had to go to Huntsville and pray for Josh,” Bene said.
IV said he was legitimately scared for the first time in his life, but didn’t know how to pray, so he turned to Josh’s grandparents to pray for his son’s health.
He did make a promise to God.
“If He allowed Josh to live, I promised to go to church,” he said. “I lied to God.”
IV said he wanted to go to church, but had not dealt with being sexually abused while attending vacation Bible school when he was a teenager.
Bene, too, said she was a lost soul and “never felt clean” for all of her sins, although she kept her promise to God. She blamed herself for Josh’s situation and the 16 days he spent in the hospital.
While she kept going to church and talking about Jesus to anyone who would listen, IV said he tried reading the Bible and to stop cussing, but got more frustrated.
Then came that moment on Interstate 65 when IV was a patrolman for the Hartselle Police Department. He called the moment crazy, but said this is when he got saved.
“God told me I hadn’t totally surrendered to Him,” IV said. “I pulled over on I-65, got out of my patrol car, knelt and prayed. I was crying and I was a mess. I just said, ‘God if you forgive me, I’ll surrender.’ It was crazy, but all of that stuff I was carrying went away instantly.”
When IV returned to the station, Hartselle's then-Police Chief Ron Puckett sent him home.
Bene said she had never seen her husband cry and thought he had killed someone when he walked in the door.
“He was a new man, a Godly man,” she said.
The Marshes founded Epic Church on Sept. 7, 2007, and membership has grown to more than 3,500.
Football — although secondary — remained a significant part of their family, and Josh, who graduated from Decatur High in 2018, became one of the most sought-after players in the state.
Auburn expressed interested in his talents when he was a sophomore, but for the next two years the Tigers had limited contact with Josh, his mother said.
“It was his dream to play football for Auburn,” Bene said. “He told Alabama no from the beginning.”
For a while, however, the family thought he would go to Notre Dame. IV said Auburn invited his son to one final camp and his workout, especially his time in the 40-yard-dash, “took them by surprise.”
Assistant coaches carried Marsh to head coach Gus Malzahn’s office after his workout in July 2017 before his senior season at Decatur High and he received a scholarship offer.
“Notre Dame literally called with an offer when he was in Coach Malzahn’s office,” Bene said.
A third conversion happened after Josh accepted Auburn’s scholarship offer.
For 13 years, Josh's sister Ella Marsh was the only Alabama fan in the family. She said Perrin, whom she refers to as “Uncle Benny,” influenced her decision to cheer for Alabama.
“I wanted to be a little different,” Ella said.
She said she went “all in” for Auburn when her brother signed his scholarship two years ago.
“There’s no in the middle of the road,” Ella said. “Even if you don’t care about football, it’s Auburn or Alabama.”
Brinkley Vilhauer, who is from Frisco, Texas, and has been living with the Marsh family for about four months while going through the Epic Church leadership program, said she could sense when she arrived in Alabama that she had to pick sides.
“Auburn,” the 20-year-old said about the team she’s pulling for.