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."
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.