April 15, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It’s easy to sum up how Marshall’s spring football practice is going for James Rouse.
The redshirt senior defensive lineman is regularly seeing a Doc rather than a doctor.
“It’s been a long road,” Rouse said after a recent practice. “It seems like every time I tried to come back, something else happened.”
Since the last time he played for the Herd, Rouse has a new position, a new uniform number and a new profile.
He was married last year to former Herd swimmer and recent MU art graduate Lindsey Stock. He’ll graduate next month in criminal justice, then work toward a second degree in psychology.
“James is such a great kid, and he does everything right and he’s a really good football player,” Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. “We’re being cautious with him this spring, but he’s out here because he needs to practice, he’s been out so long.
“He’s going through individuals (drills), and in August he’ll be on the field because he deserves to play.”
Rouse hasn’t played for the Herd since September 2011, in a 44-7 loss at Ohio. He suffered a back injury in that game and missed the remainder of the season.
With seven career starts between the 2010 and ’11 seasons, Rouse returned to the field last spring, moving inside from defensive end. Learning to play tackle from new Herd assistant coach J.C. Price – a longtime Rouse acquaintance – Rouse tore his left Achilles tendon 368 days ago.
“When I tore my Achilles I took it really hard because I knew it was a real serious injury,” Rouse said. “A lot of people don’t get back from it and play. But my coaches kept me focused, doing rehab, and encouraged me. It was six months before I started to feel better from that, like I could maybe play.”
Then, at midseason last fall, before he even had a chance to return to competition, Rouse underwent back surgery – “to fix what was wrong there from before,” he said -- to have a herniated disc repaired.
Rouse is one of only seven original scholarship players left on the Marshall roster from former Coach Mark Snyder’s program. He arrived from Harrisonburg, Va., as a 195-pound two-way end and redshirted in 2009. The 6-foot-5 Rouse then played defensive end at 240 pounds, but has added bulk to 270 to move inside.
“I’ve been here all along, always trying to get healthy,” Rouse said. “I’ve worked hard getting my rehab. I’m out here now doing what I can, trying to help our young guys get ready, get my body ready so when camp rolls around in August, I’m ready to go 100 percent.
“I think right now I’m well enough to play, but the coaches are being cautious, having me ease into things, so I’ll wait until camp.”
Rouse hopes his shelved life is over. And in an attempt to change his fortunes, he’s also changed uniform numbers.
He’s left behind 92 – yes, the same number once worn by Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick when he played defensive line and linebacker for MU in the late ‘70s – and has taken the very un-defensive tackle-like 11.
“I’d been having such a rough road, getting hurt, and I wanted a fresh start, something new,” Rouse said, smiling. “In my mind, I was starting over, and I felt like a new number would be part of that, put all of the old injuries of the past behind me.
“(No.) 11 has no special significance to me. The number didn’t matter to me; I just wanted a new one. I told Coach Holliday I wanted a fresh start and they gave me some choices and just picked 11. There’s nothing wrong with 11, but I didn’t want 92 anymore.”
With Price coaching Herd defensive tackles now, Rouse said that’s a plus. He has known the Marshall line coach since Rouse was 15 and as a Harrisonburg High player was attending camps at James Madison, where Price previously was an assistant coach.
“When I moved to tackle last spring before I tore the Achilles, it was a little hard picking things up,” Rouse said. “But once I started to understand what to do, the differences, it wasn’t that big of an adjustment. The biggest thing was gaining weight to play inside.
“I really wanted to play for Coach Price, too. I’ve known him since I was about 15 and we had a good relationship while I was in high school. That helps a lot and he knows what I’m capable of, what I need to do.”
And although he’s listed as a redshirt senior, 2013 most likely won’t be Rouse’s final season in the Herd program. Having missed all of one season and about three-fourths of another, Holliday said the Herd will be petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Rouse.
“He probably has two more years because of all of the injuries and missed time he’s had, but we’ll take it one year at a time,” Holliday said. “We’ll get James back out there playing and we’ll worry about Year 6 after that.
“He’s good football player, a natural in there, and there’s not a whole lot of difference between playing three-technique and nine-technique or a five, so we’ll get him coached up and ready to go. He’s going to help us.”
Rouse isn’t looking past 2013, either.
“I technically will be a senior trying to get a sixth year (of eligibility), so I can have another season after that,” Rouse said. “I’m just looking forward to August and being able to play like I can.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do that.”