If you’ve ever been to a Kentucky football or basketball game, chances are you’ve seen Josh Marsh.
He’s that tumbling guy — the one who hurls himself through the air doing tricks that almost seem impossible. No hands, one hand, tucks, pikes and layouts — impressive by itself, but more so across a distance of 50 yards from one side of the football field to the other.
“I do it just to make them go crazy,” the senior said of his desire to light up the crowd. “The louder they get, the higher I get, the more flips I do.”
A video of one of his big tumbling runs at a game last fall drew the attention of one of the most successful television writers and producers in the country.
“Flipping my way into the weekend like this. #FridayFeeling,” Shonda Rhimes posted on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
The celebrated creator of such TV hits as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” has more than 1.8 million Twitter followers. The Oct. 12 video of Marsh flying across the field, now has more than 964,000 views.
Suddenly, Marsh wasn’t just a sideline sensation, he was an Internet sensation.
“It was surreal,” Marsh admits, still shaking his head months later. “The video went viral and blew up and was on every different type of social media. I had a whole lot of people from back home hit me up, and people I’ve met through the cheerleading world ask me about it. I love the notoriety, because they’re starting to see the masculine side of cheerleading.”
Marsh, who hails from Suwanee, Ga., came to UK following in the footsteps of his older brother John.
“There’s always that stereotype that cheerleading’s for girls and stuff like that, but when they actually get to see male participants that are in the sport, actually doing really, really athletic things, people start to gain more respect (for it) and start to do more research,” Marsh said. “They start to find out that it’s something that deserves more respect than it gets.”
Before John graduated, the two gained notice at UK basketball games because they would do their spectacular tumbling runs together. This year, Josh’s last with the UK squad, he’s been doing many on his own, trying to get them higher and more fantastic each time.
“He’s just a physical freak,” UK cheer coach Jomo Thompson said after the team’s recent exhibition with other programs and high schools last week in Memorial Coliseum. “There’s no other way to put it. He can bench 225 (pounds) 20 times. He can jump 41 inches (vertically) and can run like a sub 4.3 40, so we’re just happy to have him on our team.”
The team, UK Cheer’s Blue squad, is preparing to try to win the program’s 24th national title and fourth in a row at this weekend’s Universal Cheerleaders Association College Nationals in Orlando, Fla.
While fans see the UK cheerleaders pumping up the crowd at Rupp Arena and Kroger Field, they don’t see the hours and hours of work the members put in at the gym trying to perfect a routine that lasts just two and a half minutes, but has consumed their lives for months.
“This is by far the most prepared squad that I’ve ever been a part of,” Marsh said. “This team in particular is a very, very special team not only athletic-wise, but the team chemistry is like no other.
“At no time are we gonna settle for just OK … “We want to do really, really high-level skills and make it look easy.”
Thompson praised his squad’s exhibition performance last week, saying it was a good sign they were able to keep everything “in the air” despite a few bobbles. For competitive college cheerleading’s most dominant program, the goal is just trying to top themselves each year, a formula that works.
“We’ve still got ... time to prepare,” Thompson said. “More time to get nitpicky, but I’m feeling really good about it.”
The 2019 UCA & UDA College Cheerleading and Dance Team National Championship in Orlando this Friday through Sunday will be broadcast live online through a pay-per-view service at TV.Varsity.com. An edited, taped broadcast will air later this year on one of ESPN’s networks.