HUNTINGTON - Certainly the move is temporary, but Blake Brooks was the first-team nose tackle at Marshall's two practices Wednesday.
The redshirt freshman from South Charleston High rose from the second unit after probable starter Brandon Sparrow left to tend to family issues. The tackle ranks have temporarily thinned - junior college transfer Ken Smith's career may be over for medical reasons, Jarquez Samuel is on the mend and James Rouse has yet to practice this month.
Still, Brooks is being rewarded for his untiring work at MU. Nicknamed the "Big Cheese," he is still on a slimming program, and looks much better than he did when he first entered the Thundering Herd program.
"The coaches want me 295, 300 [pounds]," said the 6-foot-1 Brooks. "Today, I got on the scale and it said 304, and probably after today it will be 302 or somewhere around there. Slowly but surely it's coming down. I'll get down to 295 at least before schools starts."
"I like 'Cheese.' He'll be all right," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "He was a triple-pounder when he got here, and now he's down to about a double-pounder."
The Herd's first-team offense hasn't turned over the ball much this month, but Rakeem Cato had a pass picked off by middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes in seven-on-seven drills during the afternoon.
Cato returned fire the next play, hitting Aaron Dobson despite respectable man-to-man coverage down the sideline. Andre Booker, working as first-team slot receiver, had a highlight-reel catch from Cato a few plays later.
"That happens at times," Holliday said. "I think the one thing [Cato] has done, he's matured and he puts that behind him and goes on and plays the next play."