March 28, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Keith Baxter has a familiar name in Marshall football. It just hasn't been heard around the Thundering Herd much lately.
Baxter, the son of a former standout MU wide receiver of the same name, has started spring practice right where he was last season - in a red "no-contact" jersey.
The redshirt junior cornerback from Homestead, Fla., is a guy who loves a challenge. Well, Baxter is getting just that - although not exactly the kind he's prefer.
"Missing last season, that was probably the worst thing that happened to me, because those guys played really well, especially the secondary," Baxter said of 2013, with veteran defensive coordinator Chuck Heater introducing his scheme with man coverage principles in his first Herd season. "It hurt a lot not to be out there with my guys playing. So, it was pretty rough."
Baxter remains limited after a second labrum tear in his right shoulder. He underwent surgery following the 2012 season, and while it was successful, he re-tore the joint during the third week of preseason drills last August.
The result was a redshirt season for Baxter as the Herd went 10-4 - with the nation's most improved scoring defense - and won the Military Bowl over Maryland. Now, after the Herd lost 2013 senior corners Monterius Lovett and Derrick Thomas, a healthy Baxter would help a lot at a position in need of depth.
So, Coach Doc Holliday and Heater are taking it slow with Baxter, who won't have full contact this spring.
"He's a talented guy, but he hasn't done anything," Holliday said of Baxter in the coach's pre-spring news conference. "He's a little bit like (linebacker Kent) Turene, been hurt since he got here, but there isn't a more talented defensive back on this football team,
"Baxter is that physically, but potential gets you beat ... To this point, he hasn't been very productive. He's a talented guy who needs to stay healthy; he needs to go out and get coached and if he can do that, he's got a chance to help us because he's no doubt a talented guy."
Baxter played six games as a true freshman in 2011, then made nine starts despite having shoulder and hamstring problems in 2012. To say he's itching to do something more than backpedal in some practice sessions would be an understatement.
"It was kind of like, all the night before (spring practice started) I was up, itching to get out here because I haven't been on the field in forever it seems," Baxter said after Thursday's second workout of the spring. "It was August. It seems longer.
"Coach Holliday and Coach Heater remind me to be smart and play smart and they know I can't do too much with it. When I'm out there, they want me to just get back in the feel of playing football, but they don't want me using my arm at all.
"My feeling is everything will work out, that's how I feel. I just have to stay healthy and do what the coaches tell me to do ... stay in training room. That's the best thing I can do right now."
Baxter got his first college interception in a 2012 loss at UAB. With the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Floridian sidelined, Marshall piled up 18 picks last season - six by players from the secondary -- as Heater introduced his man coverage scheme.
"Honestly, I love this defense, because it puts a lot of stress and responsibility on the corners and I like to play a lot of the coverages that Coach Heater plays," Baxter said. "It's fun to play for a guy who wants to play man, and that's what I like to do. It's very challenging and it's competition, and that's why I like it."
Baxter said he's not concerned about losing the rust by the time he's full-go when preseason drills start in August. For him, it's more about the urgency of the situation.
"It's important I get out back out here, just back in the feel of playing ball," he said. "I thought maybe there would be (rust), but I came back out and kind of just jumped back in. It's going to take me a lot to get back in my technique, but rust, I don't really think about it. I just try to come out every day and work on refining my game, do as much as I can do.
"I'll be in red all spring. We're working toward me getting back out here in August. The spring is just for me to get back out here and play ball ... Sometimes I feel like a new guy. When I came out on the field Tuesday, I felt like a new guy.
"It's like all the guys, they know me, and they're just rooting for me to get back on the field. It kind of just feels like `I need to get used to this,' but I've been here so long, I'm just trying to get into and through a season healthy. That's the goal now."
Heater said the secondary needs Baxter in green, not red.
"Last year (in spring and before he was injured in August), Keith got a lot done, sometimes probably too much and he got on the ground one time, tore it again, same shoulder. It's usually a very successful surgery. He just got unlucky. When you fall on the ground, sometimes that's what happens. But in reality, we have to be careful.
"He's done a good job with what he can do. He just hasn't had a chance to play. I think he can help us for sure. He's got a lot of talent; he just hasn't played a lot of football. That being said, been encouraged by what I see. I know he can help us. It's just a matter of him getting healthy and staying on the field."