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Juco linebacker exceeding Herd's expectations

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall coaches had high expectations when they brought junior college linebacker Neville Hewitt to the football program.

Had to. Somebody has to help fix the leaks in the linebacker unit. Thundering Herd fans don't need another tutorial in why - the off-the-wall-in-a-bad-way defensive numbers don't lie, and neither does the video. The linebacker corps was generally exposed.

Hewitt, recruited out of Georgia Military College, knew what he signed up for. MU coaches thought they had somebody who could contribute right way.

"I know they weren't signing a junior college guy to sit," Hewitt said Tuesday. "So I knew they wanted me to come in and play; I just had to prove myself."

Check. Two and a half weeks into camp and 10 days before the season opener against Miami (Ohio), Hewitt has risen to first-string duty, largely playing the "Will" alongside middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes.

After practice Monday, coach Doc Holliday peeled the red "rookie" stripe off Hewitt's helmet, and that may have been overdue. From multiple perspectives, the Georgia native has worked out beyond expectations - even beyond those of Hewitt himself.

"I'm handling it way better than I thought," Hewitt said. "I think junior college got me prepared for this."

"He's exceeded [expectations]. He's in the mix to be a starter," said Chuck Heater, defensive coordinator. "I'm not sure we felt, in the absence of a spring, the guy could jump in there and do that, but he has. That's a positive for us. We need every guy we can get."

A juco import hits the spot for the Herd. Of the eight linebackers with a reasonable shot to play (including the injured Stefan Houston and Billy Mitchell), there is one senior (Mitchell), four juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen.

This stat tells a better tale: Only three of those players have started a game: Holmes has started 17, Mitchell five and Raheem Waiters one. So yes, somebody such as Hewitt is needed at the play-making Will spot, and everywhere else.

So what does Hewitt bring to what was a beleaguered defense last year? It's simple.

"He's got instincts," Heater said. "Linebacker's a guy you don't want to spend too much time talking to about finding the football. Good linebackers find the football, whether they're doing it exactly as you say or not."

Holliday echoed those thoughts: "I've kind of said all along, there are several positions on a team, if you've got to coach them every snap, you don't have one. He may be lined up wrong, going in the wrong gap, but he'll find a way to make a play."

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  • Speaking of Holmes, he won't have to speak too much when he's calling the Herd's defense. That hindered him at times last year - it seemed that when directing traffic in coordinator Chris Rippon's system, it affected his play, and when that burden was lifted he played better.

    In Heater's philosophy, brevity is the way to go, especially against high-tempo offenses.

    "The offense has made it difficult. They're so fast," he said. "You better find one word that's all-inclusive - includes the coverage, includes the alignments, includes all of it. We've worked hard. I think football has forced us to, as well.

    "I've always felt less is better. Too much verbiage is ... too much verbiage. That's always been my orientation, but it's more relevant now because of the offenses."

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  • The Big Green Scholarship Foundation, which includes the Quarterback Clubs of Huntington and Charleston, will come back to life Saturday with its Casino Night at the Memorial Student Center.

    The event runs from 6:30-11 p.m. at the Don Morris Room, and tickets are $100. That includes QB Club membership, as well as food and beverages.

    Monday morning, the Big Green sponsors its free "Breakfast with Doc" at First State Bank in Teays Valley. Doors open at 7 a.m., with breakfast provided by Tudor's Biscuit World.

    The QB Club of Charleston kicks off its luncheon schedule at noon Saturday at the Embassy Suites. Admission is $20 for non-members and $13 for members.

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  • Another Marshall newcomer, speedy receiver Devon "Moo Moo" Smith, had his red "rookie" stripe peeled off after Tuesday's second practice.

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  • Good news for those using the west-side elevator, i.e., sky-suite patrons, workers and media schmucks: All three elevators are up, running and doing so faster than before.

    The left and right elevators were refurbished, with the center lift built in the space built for the purpose 22 years ago.

    Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.


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