Kersey's catch highlights first day of Herd workouts
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Every year coaches will say their players look good in helmets and shorts, but there was no downplaying the first big play in Marshall's preseason camp.
In the second of Monday's split-squad practices, Rakeem Cato launched a long pass Shawney Kersey's way in seven-on-seven drills and the Penn State transfer twisted a full 180 degrees and brought the pass down with one hand in the end zone, a 30-ish yard score.
That jacked up the already lively volume in the veteran-dominated workout. The play showed a hint that the Thundering Herd plans to simultaneously ignore the dash of preseason hype and forget about last year's 5-7 disappointment.
"I told them - wideouts, O-line, everybody, it's time to work now," said Cato, the junior and returning Conference USA most valuable player. "Put everything to the side, it's time to play some football now. Time to separate the boys from the men."
There are three weeks to do so, not counting the game-week preparation before the Aug. 31 season opener against Miami (Ohio).
The Herd continued its practice of splitting up the first four workouts, Monday through Thursday. The morning practice featured mostly newcomers and younger players, while the afternoon was veteran heavy. There were switches made to accommodate those in summer-school classes.
Those split workouts are almost mandatory with the Herd's roster nearly 100 percent healthy. Just about everybody injured from last season and the spring worked out Monday, save for receiver Tommy Shuler.
That started with three linebackers. Kent Turene, perhaps the most intriguing of the yet-untested prospects, returned from an ankle injury he suffered early in his first spring season. He had two screws inserted and said he's ready to roll.
He came to Marshall in January 2012 as a midyear nonqualifier, and the truncated spring added to his time away from the field. He feels like he's being uncaged.
"It's been a very long time," he said. "I've had to sit out two seasons and now being able to come back. It's been a long road but it's all been worth it, because I've learned a lot."
Raheem Waiters is back after missing the spring with a torn meniscus. Evan McKelvey returned from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
They all looked a bit bigger and stronger, and Cato seems to have physically matured as much as anybody. He said he's at "190 or 193" pounds on his 6-foot frame, 30-plus pounds heavier from the start of his freshman season.
He sported the two-glove look Monday, but said he is gaining confidence when he sheds them.
"I noticed out here a week ago, I was out here throwing the ball, my hand got much, much bigger, much stronger," he said. "I'm trying to throw the ball without the gloves; I can do that now."
Marshall coach Doc Holliday enjoyed watching his newly assembled squad, from the newcomers on up. He is ready to turn that 5-7 season into a shrinking speck in his rear-view mirror.
"First day's always great," he said. "You get out and it's like Christmas morning, find out what toys you have under the tree. There's a couple of guys, it's great to watch them run around here, but they're still in shorts."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.