Herd's Van getting baptism by fire on defense
HUNTINGTON - The first harsh lesson Marshall's Travon Van learned about playing cornerback at the major-college level: You can't play hide-and-seek.
Quarterbacks, especially those smart enough to matriculate at Rice University, will find you.
And if you're a newbie, they will exploit you.
That started from Van's first snap at the position, in the second quarter. Quarterback Taylor McHargue tossed the ball to Sam McGuffie on the left perimeter, right at Van's side.
Let's put it this way: Van did not make his first tackle since prep school, and McGuffie gained 15 yards.
In short, Van got buried.
"That chop block, I wasn't used to that. I was like, 'oh, there it goes.' I was telling [my teammates] in the hotel, 'Yo, I've never gotten chop-blocked before.' They were like, 'Oh, you'll be fine.' It wasn't too bad but I definitely didn't see it coming."
He didn't see the position change coming, either. Well into the week's preparation for Rice, Van was summoned into coach Doc Holliday's office and asked to move across the ball.
Van would go from starting tailback to rookie corner in a Marshall minute. By all accounts, he did not hesitate.
Holliday thought that would be case, and he sees an excellent future for Van.
"I think it's important that all of our kids trust us," Holliday said. "The number one thing is the program is based on truth and trust. They've got to trust us. Vinny Curry trusted us to come back for his senior year and to get his degree. He became conference player of the year and helped his draft status.
"I'm at a point in my tenure here that I hope they all trust us. We are making decisions that are good for the team as a whole, but also good for them as individuals."
Van will run with the corners for his second game against Purdue, at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. The reason he will do so is simple - the running back position is deep and the cornerback position is not.
Freshman A.J. Leggett suffered a season-ending injury and Darryl Roberts may or may not come back from his. When Keith Baxter's status for the Rice game was questionable, that left two ready-to-play corners - Derrick Thomas and Monterius Lovett.
Two is not enough, so Van was tapped on the shoulder. A few days later, he was tossed into the deep end at Rice.
"It was more of a, 'Let me sneak in a play and see if they see me over here before they try to attack me,' " he said. "I guess they called an audible, and here comes a bubble [screen] my way. I think I played about seven plays, and most of the balls were coming my way, too."
Look for Purdue, Tulsa and the rest of the Herd's opponents to go his way, too. But Van is confident in relearning a position he played in high school and prep school, and his teammates are confident he has the speed, hip movement and football smarts to learn the position quickly.
Van had inspired that confidence in others before coming to Huntington.
"Here's a kid that was recruited at Florida as a DB," said Herd defensive coordinator Chris Rippon. "So he was a DB that we brought in [and] whatever the decision-making was, he was a running back and had good success last year. As you saw, the younger running backs could have filled the void and we had a desperate need. Even though Keith was able to play, I'm not giving [Van] up. He's not going back to offense.
"He's going to be here and he's got two years left, and he's going to be a really good player."
There's a lot to learn as soon as possible - various zone schemes, the perils of attempting press coverage on Aaron Dobson in practice, all the routes to defend and the changeover from avoiding tackles to tackling.
Grasping the psychology of the position is as important as anything. Van knew the importance of fumbling as a running back; now he risks showing up on a highlight reel as a victim of a long touchdown pass.
"When you fumble, you really don't put up six points [for your opponent]," Van said. "[When giving up a TD pass] you know somebody's lighting up the scoreboard, and it's not you."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com.