BOGACZYK: Following Footsteps, Petty in Middle of Defense
The Word on the Herd-April 28, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Like many of his Marshall teammates, Shawn Petty played in the Military Bowl to close the 2013 football season.
He's unique, however, among the Herd from that late December day in Annapolis, Md. He was on the losing side, as a backup inside linebacker in Maryland's last game as an ACC member before moving to the Big Ten.
This isn't one of those "if you can't beat `em, join `em" tales, however. It's a story rooted in research.
After two seasons with his home-state Terrapins, Petty was seeking a new place to play. He didn't pick Marshall because he was green with envy about that bowl game. He considered rosters of several schools before checking out the Herd.
"I had a couple of other schools in mind, but I knew Marshall was a good program, on the rise," Petty said after spring drills ended Saturday. "And I looked and they needed linebackers here after their senior class (was out of eligibility), and I felt like this would be the best opportunity for me to come in and play right away."
Petty saw that while he would have to sit out for the 2014 season after transferring, that season also would be the last for Herd linebackers Neville Hewitt, Jermaine Holmes, Raheem Waiters and Cortez Carter. Marshall also has since lost Kent Turene, whose career was cut short by injury. Hewitt and Holmes were the top tacklers for Coach Doc Holliday's program.
"Sitting out last year, with what they accomplished (a Conference USA title, bowl win and national ranking), that was really hard, but my teammates helped me get through that," the 6-foot, 251-pound Petty said. "Daily, I used my practices as my games -- that's all you have.
"So I just came out and went hard in practices. It was tough, but my teammates helped me out with it. Having to sit and watch games, it made me more hungry, not being out there on Saturdays."
This spring, with weakside linebacker Evan McKelvey still bouncing back to full health after a second ACL tear surgery in his career, Petty and sophomore Raheim Huskey got plenty of reps at the inside linebacker spots.
The former Terrapin was among the more impressive newcomers to Holliday's club.
"Shawn has good size and athletic ability," said Adam Fuller, the Herd's third-year linebackers coach. "He's good in the meeting room, picks up concepts well, understands, and he's a plus in zone coverage with excellent ball skills.
"If there's a place he needs to improve, it's playing with more power and burst. We like him ... he's a good player, but he needs to continue to improve in order for him to be an every-down player in our defense."
Petty admits he has an advantage in getting what he needs. He not only has Fuller and other Herd coaches on campus, but when he's home in Greenbelt, Md., he has a coach, too.
His father, Ray Petty, is the defensive coordinator at Howard University, and a linebacker at Elon in the late `70s. The elder Petty also has had two stints as a head coach (2002-06, 2013) at Howard, and also has been defensive coordinator at Norfolk State and Delaware State and also coached at Southern and North Carolina A&T.
"There's no extra pressure having your dad as a coach," Petty said. "Really, it's very beneficial. Whatever I can't pick up from out here and if it's something my dad can help me with, he can teach me. It's been a big plus, because it's helped my game throughout my whole life.
"I've learned a lot from him. My whole life, I'd been playing quarterback until I moved to linebacker. He taught me what he did. And once I got to college, he taught me everything he knew. He's here (Saturday for the Green and White scrimmage), and I'm pretty sure he's going to critique me when we get back to my apartment.
"The biggest thing I learned from him is basically, play hard. They key on defense is just playing football, get to the football ... instinctive. Being a football player, it's always been kind of interesting (at home with a coach).
"So, it's more than just going hard every play. It's making sure you get your assignment. It comes naturally to me, kind of. So, with my dad, it's play hard, play smart and you'll make plays."
Petty, 21, put his 2014 transfer season to good use and won the Herd's Offensive Scout Team Award for the practice looks he gave Rakeem Cato and Co.
"When you're in that kind of situation, you have to make a statement that way, because that's all you have," Petty said. "I didn't have a game on Saturday, so I had to go hard Tuesday through Thursday, every week. That was important to me."
In 2011, Petty and fellow Herd junior linebacker Stefan Houston were Maryland 4A/3A (large schools) All-State first team linebackers. After Petty's graduation from Eleanor Roosevelt High, he found himself in a larger role than expected as a Terps' true freshman.
He began 2012 as a scout team linebacker, but when injuries struck the ACC program, Petty was moved over to quarterback, where he made four late-season starts. Petty completed 39-of-84 passes (.464) for 500 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 58 times for a net of 14 yards (152 gain, 138 lost), with one TD.
That experience helps him now, Petty said.
"It helped me a lot because basically, at quarterback, you learn a lot more because on offense, you've got to know where everybody's going," Petty said. "Then, going over to the defensive side, you pick those things up you learned on the offensive side, like splits and looking at the backs alignments.
"Half of the game is mental, so if you know the sets before the play, it makes the physical part easier. It really is beneficial for me now to have been on the other side of the ball."
Petty's father was a running back who was moved to linebacker. Like his dad, the Herd junior has learned that versatility is a key to success, too. Petty played weakside and middle linebacker this spring, and the two inside spots can be interchangeable to the Marshall scheme.
"You want to learn as much as possible about both positions," he said. "The more you know, the better, so you can always flip."
What Petty said he enjoyed most, however, about spring football was just being 15 practices closer to getting back onto the field for his first game since that Military Bowl.
"It felt good to actually be out here competing for a job and going hard every day," Petty said. "It feels good to just be on the field again. When you're like I was last season, you kind of have to lag off.
"You can't go full speed, because on scout (team) these other guys you're playing against, they've got a game on Saturday. Now, I can go full speed, go my hardest and battle for a position. That's what I'm here for."