June 21, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Thomas Wolfe’s 1940s novel was wrong. You definitely can go home again.
Marshall defensive end Arnold Blackmon proved that back on Memorial Day weekend. Blackmon and linebacker Neville Hewitt – the seniors have been Herd football roommates since their arrival in the program last June from junior colleges – made a pre-summer conditioning camp trip to Houston.
Blackmon had gotten a request – when he was home for part of the offseason – to visit Lantrip Elementary School. Lela Jones, the defensive end’s godmother, has been a physical education teacher and coach at the school on the Texas city’s east end for about three decades, Blackmon said.
So, Blackmon and Hewitt traveled to Texas on Memorial Day weekend with their Military Bowl jerseys … and ended up – to their surprise – in a two-hour Field Day session for 300-400 kids from the first through fifth grades.
The 6-foot-1, 242-pound Blackmon and 6-2, 220-pound Hewitt turned some heads … and perhaps flipped some fans, too.
“My son likes Marshall football now; he’s interested,” said Annette Martinez, whose second-grade son, Damian Martinez, had his shirt autographed by the Herd defensive duo and his mom took photos to prove it. “He plays little league football for the East End Eagles and he’s been all about the (Texas) Longhorns, but now he says he likes the Herd. He loved those two guys.”
Blackmon said that besides showing up to support his godmother, making connections like those with the 7-year-old Martinez were what the Memorial Day event was all about.
“It was truly awesome to see those kids attracted to us, and the two of us providing good role models for them,” Blackmon said. “It was a blessing to be out there and help.”
Blackmon – his home is only a few blocks from Reliant Stadium -- and Hewitt competed with the children and against one another in various games before flying back to Huntington that afternoon.
“It was cool, something to do for the right reasons,” said Hewitt, of Conyers, Ga. “We met the kids participated, talked with them, just went out for a good time and had fun.
“We did the spoon race, where you carry an egg and race around the cones, and if you drop the egg, you have to go back and get it and go on.”
So, how did the Blackmon versus Hewitt spoon race turn out?
“I won,” Hewitt said, grinning.
Blackmon said he and Hewitt – two of the regulars on a Marshall defense that returns 17 of its top 21 tacklers from 2013 – were happy to do the school visit for the latter’s godmother.
“She treats me like I’m her own son,” Blackmon said. “She showed up to every youth football game, every Little League baseball game, every high school game. She’s been there since Day 1, and I love her to death. When she asked me, I had to accept.”
The Herd pair was surprised at the number of children attending, but Hewitt said that meant their positive interaction and message reached more youth.
“We were only there about two hours, but it was great,” said Hewitt, who was the Herd’s No. 2 tackler and a 12-game starter last season. “They look up to us, and we’re out there with them and we seem like older brothers.
“They watch football with their parents and see guys like us going to school, playing the game, and maybe it helps them want to do better, go to school, word hard, get a degree, play the game.”
Blackmon said the two Marshall seniors also wanted to do something fun before returning to campus to begin summer conditioning, which is why they were running sprints on the new Edwards Stadium turf on Friday morning.
No spoon races there …
“We weren’t trying to turn any fans,” a sweating Blackmon said with a smile. “We just wanted to support my godmother and support those kids. Those kids are our future. We just tried to tell them what we knew, what we do, what they can achieve if they do the right things.”