July 16, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When Marshall opens football practice Aug. 6 in preparation for Coach Doc Holliday’s third season, there is one position that might get more fans’ scrutiny than the others.
That would be at safety, where the candidates include Boston College graduate transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha – he said you can call him “O.” All of his teammates do.
The questions might begin right out of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid … Who are those guys?
OK, fair enough. But off the top, let’s settle this: Okoroha and LeGrande were a package deal for the Herd. They didn’t want it any other way, they said.
“The big reason we picked Marshall is we were able to stay together,” LeGrande said after a recent skills session on the turf at Edwards Stadium. “Other schools were having a hard time taking both of us, and Marshall got on the radar.
“It’s a blessing for us to be here, Coach Holliday being willing to bring us in together. We feel comfortable playing together. We’ve done that a lot in games and practice (at BC). It’s only going to help us and the team.”
Besides, as Okoroha, explained, “We’ve been roommates and teammates.”
LeGrande is a 6-foot-3, 212-pound strong safety from Staten Island, N.Y. Okoroha, a native of Lagos, Nigeria, is a 6-1, 210 free safety from Lanham, Md. Both are 22. Both finished bachelor’s degrees in communication at BC, with Okoroha adding a minor in economics. They’re MU graduate school students.
LeGrande will wear No. 10 this season. Okoroha is No. 6, although maybe 7 might have fit better with his name, because then he could have been Double O-7 … and these guys do have a strong bond.
These guys can play. They look like players and they’re strong. They were presumed starters last season for the Eagles, and both started six games in their BC careers. They’ve played against Virginia Tech, Florida State, Notre Dame, USC and Clemson, where, as “O” said, smiling, “Yeah, we chased around (Tigers star running back) C.J. Spiller.”
Both were in the 2008 BC recruiting class. Okoroha was ranked the No. 6 prospect in Maryland that year; LeGrande was No. 8 in New York. Okoroha had offers from Penn State, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, NC State and Maryland, besides BC. LeGrande chose the Eagles over offers from Syracuse, Duke, Connecticut and Buffalo.
“We had the opportunity to watch them on film, playing good people, and I thought both of them were athletic, and played with great emotion and enthusiasm,” Holliday said. “And just having them here as seniors, when defensively we only had one senior in (linebacker) Devin Arrington, that means a lot.
“That was a concern for me, being so young on defense, and we were thin at safety, too. So, this brings a little maturity into the secondary. And being able to add two guys who have started at the highest level and played against good people is going to help us.
“They’re both intelligent guys, have their degrees, and I’m told they work hard. They bring a lot to our table.”
Okoroha said the pair did their own scouting of teams and learned Marshall needed depth in the secondary and didn’t have much experience. They e-mailed Herd safeties coach Todd Hartley, he said, “around May 5-10, somewhere in there.”
LeGrande had offers from Maryland, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. Okoroha was looking at the Nittany Lions, Illinois and Southern Illinois … no common ground there.
“The thing that happened,” Okoroha said, “was everybody was taking their time, wanting to bring us in for the second session (of summer school). We wanted to get somewhere right away so we could get done what we needed to get done, be able to learn the playbook, learn our teammates, feel a part of the team, they know us, we know them, ASAP.
“As soon as Marshall called back, they said we could come here and they wanted us in the first session, this topped every other school. We thought it would give us the best opportunity to play, to try and get us to the next level (NFL).”
LeGrande said he and Okoroha “were talking to a lot of schools before school ended,” but there was an issue.
“We still hadn’t graduated, so we were still on the fence because schools were telling us ‘We don’t even know if you guys are going to graduate (and be eligible as graduate transfers),’ things like that,” LeGrande said. “It was just everything on top of everything, and we had to come up with a plan.
“I told ‘O’ it was going to work out, that we just had to handle our books and everything and when it comes time, during May, when we know about graduating, we’re going to just contact coaches and let ‘em know we’ll be able to play right away.”
LeGrande said that finishing degree work at BC after his playing days there “was one of the toughest times of my life.”
“When I elected to transfer, I had no financial aid, so it was rough,” he said. “But I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m better off for it. I learned a lot and learned how to grow up a lot, be on my own. If I went back, I wouldn’t change my decision to do what I did.”
While LeGrande played as a true freshman in 2008 at BC, Okoroha redshirted. LeGrande was a quarterback at Curtis High School and was named New York City’s top prep player in the 2007 sesason. Okoroha was a four-star Rivals prospect at Eleanor Roosevelt high in Greenbelt, Md.
They have found the transition to Marshall intriguing – and eye-opening – to say the least.
“The difference is the guys,” Okoroha said. “There are a lot more southern guys here, a lot more athletes. You’ve got guys on both sides of the ball that want to win, everyone working toward one goal and you can see it. And everyone likes that feeling. You can tell it.”
LeGrande said “bigger guys with speed” has jumped out at him. “Bigger guys with speed, smaller guys with speed, everyone can run.”
Hartley called it “a blessing,” Okoroha said when the ex-BC safeties chose Marshall. LeGrande said “it was like heaven we got in touch with Marshall.”
“We came in here the first session when we expected to show up in the second session, wherever we went,” LeGrande said. “It gave us a chance to know these guys, them to know us, a chance to watch a lot of film and learn the plays, the system. We’re here to do the same thing they are, work hard and win.
“It couldn’t have worked out better.”
LeGrande’s Staten Island high school, Curtis, also produced Bobby Thomson, of the famed “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” for the 1951 New York Giants.
That item is notable in that it seems Marshall, itself, may have hit a home run in getting these two ex-Eagles.