April 6, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Appropriately for football, this one starts with a coin toss.
It would be silver dollar flip to decide whether Darryl Roberts missed playing football last season more than the Marshall secondary missed the starting cornerback from Lakeland, Fla.
“I missed it terribly,” said Roberts, who is back on the Edwards Stadium turf this spring for the Thundering Herd’s spring drills. “It just feels good to be out here, bonding with my buddies, fitting in again.”
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday didn’t mince words on the rising junior who started in 2011 and owns 15 career MU starts.
“We did miss him,” Holliday said. “He was a good player for us for two years. It’s great he’s back out there again.”
Roberts missed last season after breaking his right ankle early last summer. His absence -- added to that of true freshman A.J. Leggett (preseason shoulder injury) -- left Marshall with only Monterius Lovett, Keith Baxter and newcomer (Penn State transfer) Derrick Thomas at corner.
Lovett, Baxter and Thomas were banged and bruised, too, by the end of a 5-7 season in which the Herd defense was among the most giving in FBS in yards and points.
The Herd also was playing with two safeties new to the MU program in Boston College graduate transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, who ended up as the Nos. 1-2 tacklers, respectively, on the team.
Roberts is a redshirt junior (in 2013), and joins seniors Lovett and Thomas and Baxter, a junior, back at corner. New to the corner spot is freshman Corey Tindal, who sat out the 2012 season. Leggett has moved to safety as new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater
retools that position, too, with sophomore D.J. Hunter
sliding back from linebacker and junior college transfer Taj Letman in the mix.
“We’ve got competition there now,” Holliday said. “Competition is the greatest thing in the world in developing players, and having that kind of competition at corner and safety is great for us."
Roberts said the 5-7 season was as painful to watch as it was for his teammates to play.
“It pretty much it humbled me as a person, just sitting out watching and knowing I couldn’t help my teammates, and I could have helped,” the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Roberts said. “It made me hungry for the game, too.
“Sitting out, it got me stronger mentally. Honestly, I started thinking about coming back last couple of games to help the team out, but it was best I kept with the redshirt and have another whole season.”
Turns out Baxter, Lovett and Thomas weren’t the only ones hurting at times.
“It was very hard, not playing,” said Roberts, known for his aggressive play and talking on the field. “As soon as I got into the boot, I was trying to walk and everything.
“I was over there in the weight room with the cast on my foot, trying to lift, because I still wanted to be a part of football. I had to tell myself take it a day at a time. I didn’t do a whole lot otherwise. I just stayed in and prayed I’d come back the same, and I’d rehab my ankle every day and night, getting stronger.”
Roberts played in 23 of 25 games in his first two MU seasons. He returns with 53 career tackles, 2 interceptions and 11 passes defended.
He also blocked a punt in a home win over UAB and his overtime interception at Edwards Stadium sealed Marshall’s bowl bid-clinching victory over East Carolina in 2011.
“I feel better than I did before,” Roberts said. “I don’t think I’ve lost a step.”
Roberts also has gained a quick appreciation for Heater, the veteran coordinator with the big-time background who coaches both pieces of the secondary.
“Coach Heater is not a big zone coach, so we’ll be running a lot of man (coverage) and we like that,” Roberts said. “That’s what we wanted to run a lot last year but couldn’t, so it’s like a plus for us. He’s hard on us and he is really into coaching, so we should be good.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from him so far are just little things about our technique in man. He critiques you. He’s just a really good coach … coached a lot of good players. We can learn a lot.
“And working both the corners and safeties, I think that’s an advantage for us. We’ve got a couple of new guys in the group and we’ve got that bond already. We’re all on the field together, corners and safeties. Everything is together now.
“He’s got us working as one. It’s going to be up to us to go out and make plays.”