BOGACZYK: Huskey Brings `Charisma,' Energy to LB Spot
The Word on the Herd-April 3, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- What Raheim Huskey sees in Marshall's 2015 spring football practice isn't much different from what he saw on Dec. 6, 2014.
It might seem that in those 17 weekends, Huskey has made himself into a player at middle linebacker. That's not quite the case. Thundering Herd coaches knew the player was there, but Huskey needed that opportunity.
He got it -- and tackled it -- in a big way in the 2014 Conference USA Championship Game, when he made the most of 40 defensive snaps with eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in Marshall's comeback victory over visiting Louisiana Tech.
Now, four months later, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound redshirt sophomore began spring drills as No. 1 at middle linebacker, the Herd having lost its top two inside linebackers in Neville Hewitt, the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, and 37-game starter Jermaine Holmes, whose balky hamstring became an issue in the title game.
"Huskey comes off the bench in the championship game and he just doesn't play -- he does great," Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. "You don't figure on that, but the guy loves football, and he plays like it."
Huskey joined the Herd in the summer of 2013, but then sat out that season to retain eligibility. "I missed the game a whole lot then," Huskey said after the Herd's Thursday workout. "I spent the time learning what I needed to learn, going to the weight room trying to get stronger. I wanted to put myself in a position where I could play when I got the chance."
That chance didn't come early in his redshirt freshman season. Linebacker coach Adam Fuller had three veterans for the two inside spots, in Hewitt, Holmes and Evan McKelvey. The first two split time at mike linebacker. Hewitt and McKelvey split time at will.
However, Huskey opened some eyes with two punt blocks in the first five games, and when McKelvey suffered the second torn ACL of his career in a Week 5 win at Old Dominion, Huskey's door to playing time opened a bit more -- although Fuller was now down to two regulars at two spots.
He was the backup for a reason because I thought Neville and Jermaine were better," Fuller said. "Jermaine got dinged up, and I thought Raheim was the next-best guy. Go in there and get the job done. You don't think about, 'Oh, man, he's not going to play well.' He's the next guy. You coach him; you help him improve; you develop him .... And he went out there and played well.
"I can't say I was worried going into the game, but did I know he was going to have two sacks, nine tackles, cause a fumble? But I knew he would help us. I thought we'd still need Jermaine in the course on the game, and we did (25 snaps). But confidence, Raheim has it. I mean, he's a football player.
"He blocked punts against ODU and Rhode Island. He made plays early in the year, but I'm going to be honest, I didn't have ultimate confidence in him early in the year ... Huskey hadn't developed enough early in the year."
Huskey's year off the field only added to his inexperience on the middle line of the defense. He played three seasons in the defensive backfield at Shelby High in North Carolina, then transferred to Gaffney High in South Carolina for his senior season -- where he was a teammate of Herd slot receiver Hyleck Foster.
At Gaffney, Huskey was a receiver and safety until he moved to linebacker for seven games to close his prep career.
"I only had seven games, and making the move is kind of tough at this level because you're taking on offensive linemen who are much stronger, but I've got those ball skills from safety and my speed, and so you just convert those to linebacker. You take a step forward instead of a step backwards. It was different, but it wasn't too hard."
Huskey finished his rookie season with 24 tackles. In the Herd's first eight games, he received only 81 defensive snaps, most of those in games in which Coach Doc Holliday's team was comfortably in front. Of his 208 snaps for the season, more than one-third (72) came in the C-USA title win and Marshall's Boca Raton Bowl triumph over Northern Illinois to cap a 13-1, nationally ranked season.
"I just wanted to come in, have fun because I love football, help my team be successful, win games," the 20-year-old Huskey said. "I just love ball, and my coaches help me a lot, Coach Fuller, Coach Heater, all of them. I just have a great love for the game.
"What I learned with the championship game is be ready. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. I never played for 10 games straight. A big-time senior went down and I had to go in and make plays."
He said he was surprised to begin spring practice with the `ones' on defense.
"I wasn't expecting to be a starter now, but you've got to go out every day and show what you can do. You have to keep working hard."
Asked about opportunity and trying to make a name for himself as a first-year player on a talented 2014 team, Huskey said he thought his two punt blocks "helped a little bit, but that wasn't enough. It was every day, going out and working hard, keep getting better at my craft."
Fuller said Huskey brings a certain attitude to the field that helps him. The Herd linebacker coach and Heater saw that part of Huskey's "game" even back during the time the player had to sit out.
"He's got a charisma; he's got an energy, a personality," Fuller said. "All these guys have got stories; they're all from different backgrounds. But when you talked to him -- and no matter what was on his mind, no matter what he was going through -- he always had a great smile, a personality, sort of a glow to him.
"Raheim was pretty confident about himself, so you knew he loved `ball.' He's a real genuine kid. You can coach him, talk to him; he's honest. Those are the factors we saw in him besides him moving around.
"Football isn't a sport you just go out and play. You can't go out and play linebacker on the street like the rest of the stuff. It does take time. He only played linebacker for seven games at Gaffney High School. He was a safety. But we felt like he played a lot of football. You recruit `em all because you think they have talent, but you just don't know who's ready. You have no idea who has `it,' because if you don't have `it,' you're probably not playing, no matter how fast or strong you are."
Heater said Huskey's practice and play last season underscored what Herd coaches already had seen in the linebacker.
"He made a lot of progress, huge amounts," Heater said. "He's a football player. Some guys, when the lights come on, you don't know. He plays football. There can be a lot of pieces in between that get the way with some guys. He's always liked football. When he first came here and had to sit out, you just liked him. Before he had to sit out, you saw energy the way he went about things.
"There was a lot of work to be done, but Huskey liked football. Some guys are good right up until the lights come on. Then when the lights come on, they don't have it. It's a good thing when a guy has it. If you like football, then football is easier. He makes it easier."