April 20, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - It's been a difficult spring for Shawn Samuels.
Then, Marshall's redshirt sophomore safety seems somewhat accustomed to dealing with distress, but he is more than coping in a retooled Thundering Herd defense.
He's tackling a lot.
"All I can do is try to keep in the rotation, make plays and keep looking good," Samuels said Saturday, after having three tackles and an interception as Coach Doc Holliday's team finished its fourth week of spring practice, with one week to go until the annual Green-White Game.
Samuels was at free safety, running with the "ones," side-by-side on the day with strong safety starter D.J. Hunter on the day. Samuels was playing free safety the way new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater wants.
"That's deep, and sideline-to-sideline," Samuels said, smiling.
A year ago, Samuels - a one-time UAB commit -- wasn't on the field, since he was sitting out as an academic non-qualifier. Meanwhile, the Herd had zero depth at safety.
Then, when Samuels made his practice debut last August, his path to the field was blocked by the two Boston College graduate transfers, Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha.
While they ended up ranking 1-2 for the Herd in tackles on last season's defense, Samuels played in only seven games, with four tackles in his first season.
This spring, however, is a new opportunity for Samuels, but the 5-foot-10, 194-pound safety has had to deal with a personal loss while competing for playing time at a position that Heater said "needed help" before practices began.
Two weeks ago, one of Samuels' three older sisters, Katherine Samuels, 38, died in a car accident near their hometown of Bainbridge, Ga. Samuels left the Herd for the funeral, returning in time to play in the Herd's first scrimmage a week ago.
"I was gone about a week," Samuels said. "It was tough mentally to deal with, but in a way I was kind of prepared. My mother (Deloise Samuels) died about three years ago, so after you go through that you know how it feels.
"I was sort of ready for how to deal with it, and I had my team's support and that was great. I missed two practices, but I came back and scrimmaged last Saturday."
Now, Samuels feels he needs a good final week of spring ball to make a statement.
"Being out there with the ones feels good, makes me feel like I can show what I've got to help us be a better defense," Samuels said. "But there's a lot of competition, and Coach Heater, he's a tough guy, and it's all up to him who plays.
"His defense is simple to play. It's more aggressive, and we're playing faster sideline-to-sideline ... a lot more man (coverage) after zone last year. I like this defense; it's more of a chance to just go play, to make plays. They call the right play; you've just got to go make the play and it's done."
Hunter, who moved from strong safety to linebacker last season and became a Freshman All-America pick before returning to his old secondary spot, sees maybe more depth of talent at safety than Heater expected.
One reason for that is the eye-opening play of Samuels.
"It was really sad to hear about Shawn's sister," Hunter said. "He's back and playing well. He's going to be good here. He's fast, and he'll come up and strike you. The offense knows that. He's on the field now, and he's going to help us out a whole lot this year."