Jeff Marrs isn’t the first farmer to attend class with the sons of corporate titans at Yale University. He just might be the first licensed and practicing auctioneer.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound guard from Garden Prairie, Illinois, has his own auction business that he runs with his siblings and father. The junior, who grew up on his family’s farm, plays on a Bulldogs football team that includes the sons of Apple Inc. Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer, Major League Baseball Vice President John McHale Jr. and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia.
“I’m around guys with a lot of different backgrounds, but we’re all there playing football and doing the best we can,” Marrs, a junior psychology major, said in an interview. “I guess that’s what keeps us together.”
Yale, which hasn’t won an Ivy League championship since 2006 when it tied with Princeton University, was picked to finish third in the Ivy League behind the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.
The Bulldogs open the season at home against Georgetown University on Sept. 17 and host Cornell in their first Ivy League game Sept. 24. Like the rest of the league, which comprises eight elite universities in the northeastern U.S., Yale doesn’t give athletic scholarships and doesn’t participate in postseason playoffs. It has been playing football since 1872.
Marrs, whom Yale football coach Tom Williams describes alternately as “hilarious” and “violent,” earned a varsity letter in his first year after arriving at the New Haven, Connecticut, school from Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford Illinois.
Home on Farm
Off the field, the 20-year-old is polite, easy-going and can tell a story well enough to be a standup comedian, Williams said. Marrs grew up on a 2,000-acre corn and soybean farm about 20 miles south of the Wisconsin line in Illinois. His family has owned the farm since 1843.
He is studying at a university that matriculated five U.S. presidents, seven current members of the U.S. Senate and 25 Nobel Laureates.
As a freshman, Marrs was required to introduce himself to the team and tell something about himself. He said he was an auctioneer, demonstrated his skill and left his teammates laughing.
He got his introduction to auctioneering at the age of 14, when his grandfather -- a 45-year veteran of the business -- sent him to the World Wide College of Auctioneering Inc. in Mason City, Iowa. After that, Marrs would work at his grandfather’s auctions each summer.
Marrs has auctioned animals including chicks and cattle, and at estate sales, everything from slot machines to toilet plungers. Sometimes, he acknowledges, he can’t always identify an item before it goes up for auction. He likes to tell the story of when he picked up what he thought was a pair of pliers at a farm sale he attended with his grandfather.
“That’s not a pair of pliers,” one of his grandfather’s friends said. “That’s for castrating cattle.”
Marrs now runs his Marrs Auction Service, paying employees from the 10 percent of the sale price he gets. His sister Lisa, 25, is his clerk; his sister Katie, 29, his cashier; and his father, Jim, holds up the items and helps identify bidders. His grandfather, Jerry, died in May 2010 at the age of 84.
He used his talents to help his team raise money this month to help defray the costs of football recruiting, travel and equipment. The event raised $24,650.
Marrs said he isn’t sure if he wants to take an Ivy League degree back to the family farm in Garden Prairie -- he said his three older siblings aren’t interested in running it -- or become a counselor. Wherever he winds up, he won’t give up auctioneering.
“I have so many great memories and so much fun,” Marrs said. “This will be part of my life for many, many years to come.”