Aug. 6, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Mornings or afternoons … doesn’t matter. Whether it’s 65 degrees and breezy or 85 and muggy … doesn’t matter.
A.J. is OK now.
A.J. Leggett is just thrilled to be back on the football field going full tilt in the Marshall secondary, no matter which of the split-squad groups in which he works in the first few days of Coach Doc Holliday’s fourth Thundering Herd camp.
“I can’t describe how good it feels,” Leggett said Monday morning after his first full-go practice in almost a year. “I went out last year and then in spring I was in a red (no-contact) jersey.
“I’d have done anything to get back out here.”
It’s a changed world for the highly touted Leggett, who arrived with the Herd a year ago and figured to play in the cornerback rotation as a true freshman. And the banged-up unit surely could have used him … but Leggett was part of the reason corners were in short supply.
In the second week into camp last August, Leggett suffered a torn right rotator cuff and labrum. He had surgery in September.
“It wasn’t almost until the spring when I felt like I could go,” he said.
Amos Lamar Leggett Jr. had arrived at Marshall – somewhat surprisingly, considering his many SEC, ACC and Big Ten offers, including Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Nebraska and South Carolina.
A one-time commit to Miami (Fla.), Leggett remains the highest-ranked recruit in Herd history. Rivals had him as a four-star prospect, the No. 9 cornerback nationally in the 2012 class, No. 110 overall.
When he left the Herd, the Miamian was a corner. Now, with new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater, he’s a redshirt freshman free safety.
Heater said that coming out of spring practice, junior college transfer Taj Letman was No. 1 at the spot, but Leggett – despite a lack of contact – was “right there.”
Leggett has done his homework on his new coach, too.
“I wasn’t really concerned (with the position move),” Leggett said. “I know Coach Heater’s been around the game a long time and around a lot of great players, and I was just excited to play for him. I trust him.
“He feels like I’m a better safety than I am corner, and he knows the game. At first it was hard to make the adjustment, but the way Coach Heater coaches us, he makes it easier. He’s a great teacher. You don’t do a lot of thinking on the field, just play football.”
Heater said he learned about as much as he could in the spring about Leggett. The coach conceded that the redshirt freshman went through more in spring drills than he might have been expected. Now, the South Miami High School product has to do one more thing.
“A.J. was limited in the spring, so I’ve got to see if he’ll tackle anybody, what kind of physical toughness he has,” Heater said. “He’s got the skills; that’s the good thing. And he has good football instincts, and that’s a good thing.
“So, you go out and play, got to tackle, do those types of things, and we’ll get some of that information this month. But you can tell he’s a football player and hopefully he can help us.”
Leggett had added 15 pounds to his 5-foot-11 frame since arriving at Marshall, and up to 190 he’s better able to handle the rigors of playing in the middle of the field. “I’m stronger, way more,” he said. He’s also improved his speed by a tick or two.
And although he never played baseball as a youngster, Leggett said he has come to grasp the “centerfielder” role of a free safety.
“At corner, you’re locking down on one side,” he said. “At free, you’re kind of the general of the defense, back there, kind of like the quarterback of the defense.”
He also figures he will prosper under Heater, who is starting his 38th year as a major college assistant coach and has three national championship rings.
“I like the way he coaches,” Leggett said of Heater. “The biggest thing is he’s really tough on us. He never let us slip up, he get after us. If we mess up, he’s going to fuss at us and get after us. And that’s the kind of thing that makes you a better player.”
Heater said his move of Leggett not only brings more versatility to the secondary. It also can increase the unit’s speed. Moving a corner to safety isn’t unlike moving a strong safety to an outside linebacker spot.
“Moving a corner to free, on the positive side, you’re getting a pretty good skill set inside, a skilled athlete inside,” Heater said. “It’s just a matter of can he physically hold up, tackling guys, because you’re tackling more guys downhill now and inside out.
“It’s just a more physical position. But the gain is you’re getting a more skill set inside, which can be a big plus.”
Asked what he has to do to win a starting job in what figures to be one of key position battles for the Herd in this camp, Leggett said, “I just have to come out every day and make plays, mostly make plays that catch Coach Heater’s eyes. He wants everybody competing.”
Leggett is ready to make an impact for Marshall, albeit a bit later then he figured.
“It’s been a year since he played,” Heater said. “We got a lot out of him in the spring. For wearing a red jersey he did everything but (contact). I think he got a lot out of it in the spring.
“If A.J. had done little or nothing in the spring it would be a different story, but he did a lot of football in the spring; I think he’s at that point … Now, it’s a matter of you’ve got to go tackle people and be physical.
“But like I said, you can tell he’s a football player.”