Kicking up a storm in camp
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- With Justin Haig on the sidelines Thursday, freshmen Amoreto Curraj and Nick Smith kept Marshall's kicking contest going.
"Both kicked the ball extremely well today, which is good to see," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "Haig will be fine; he's got a strain right now, but he'll be fine."
It seems one of the two freshmen will bump Haig off for kickoff duties, as they've shown consistently stronger legs. The Thundering Herd kickoff unit was dreadful for much of last season, and part of that resulted from booting just three touchbacks, a Conference USA low.
In the first week-plus of camp, Curraj and Smith have found the end zone often with their kickoffs, perhaps prompting Haig to do the same. The two freshmen have shown promise on field goals, with Curraj even hitting a 55-yarder with a kicking stand.
On the other hand, Curraj and Smith struggled last week on field goals, finishing with four misses from 49 yards against a live rush. They performed better Thursday, hitting most of their attempts from 35 to 44 yards.
"Bottom line is we have to be able to trust them to stick them in the game; they're still freshmen," Holliday said. "What's going to happen with people up in the stands? We'll keep putting them in situations with real heat on, real pressure, and see how they respond.
"They responded pretty well today."
Curraj played at Leto High in the Tampa, Fla., area, where he was named honorable mention on the Tampa Bay Times' All-Hillsborough County team. He booted three field goals (hey, you don't get many chances in high school), and made his name in Florida kicking combines.
In April, the Times quoted Leto coach Matt Kitchie as saying Curraj will get a scholarship if he wins the kicking job, and will be on scholarship by January if he doesn't.
He was named co-kicking champion at the sixth annual Fall Kornblue Kicking Challenge in December 2012, booming an event-record 79-yard kickoff.
Smith hails from Plain City, Ohio, where he went to Alder High. He was ranked 14th among punter/kicker combos, scoring a kickoff distance of 62.75 yards.
Curraj and Smith have not been made available for comment.
Play of the day went to "X" receiver Davonte Allen, who is making good use of his first healthy week in preseason camp. The sophomore from Belle Glade, Fla., leaped to catch a Rakeem Cato pass over the outstretched arms of safety Taj Letman.
"He hasn't played ball in a while; he was out all spring," Holliday said. "For him to get back out, he's a tremendous athlete, got tremendous skills. It won't take him long to back in the groove."
A notable evolution, if not all-out move, on the defensive line: James Rouse played all the 11-on-11 time alongside Brandon Sparrow at the tackles. That's not a surprise, as Rouse is a fifth-year senior in the best condition of his MU career after losing the last two seasons to injury.
Sharp, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Orlando's Evans High, reportedly picked the Herd over offers from Cincinnati and Louisville. He told the Orlando Sentinel he has a 2.3 grade-point average and still needs four core classes. The Sentinel says ". . . his ACT score was just shy of where he needs to be on the NCAA sliding scale, so Marshall offers a good fit while he makes sure his academics are in order."
Hammond is listed as a 6-2, 175-pounder who plays strong safety at Jefferson County High. He was just named to the Augusta Chronicle's "Dream 16" players.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.