BOGACZYK: Healthy Baxter Ready to Corner Success
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 8, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Keith Baxter just might be the fastest returnee on Marshall’s 2015 football roster. His Herd career, however, has been more about going the distance than a flat-out sprint.
The cornerback from Homestead, Fla., has endured multiple surgeries for two right labrum tears and battled through hamstring and ankle injuries. He missed the 2013 season and wore a no-contact red jersey through 2014 spring practice.
Baxter’s resiliency and aggressiveness will be crucial for the Herd, which opened August camp with two split-squad workouts Friday – and the redshirt senior opened camp as the field corner starter and said he’s ready for the challenge one last time.
“This is it for me,” said Baxter, whose name became familiar at Marshall three decades ago when his dad, Keith Sr., became a star receiver for the Herd. “I’ve got to go as hard as I can on and off the field. “I have to step up and take a leadership role for the younger guys and help them be better players, too … Go hard every day.”
The 6-foot, 192-pound Baxter earned his MU undergraduate degree in health sciences in May. After that, he took an important step in the Dunfee Weight Room.
“Keith became almost a coach for the other DBs in here,” said Scott Sinclair, the Herd’s third-year strength and conditioning chief. “When a couple of them didn’t do what was needed, we said, ‘You’re a DB, handle it,’ and Keith did.
“I hope what he did there translates for him becoming a really good player in the fall, because he’s put in the work and it would be nice to see him go out and finish his career and do well.”
Baxter underwent a transformation of sorts in the Pruett Training Center, too, this summer. It was related to his hope to ward off some of the health issues of past seasons.
“Well, there have been a lot of muscular issues for Keith,” said Herd defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater. “He’s a big muscular guy, so once in a while he gets strains and so forth. His problem has been his legs at times. He’s healthy now, and we all hope he stays that way.”
Baxter said it’s about more than keeping his fingers crossed.
“This offseason, Coach Heater and Coach Sinclair wanted me to focus on getting leaner,” Baxter said. “I was at 203 (pounds) and dropped down to 190-192. I’m faster now, and hopefully won’t pull as many muscles.
“Coach Sinclair lessened a lot of my weight in weight room, and I went as hard as I could get my body back right.”
Baxter has 13 career starts for the Herd, and started four of the 12 games he played in Marshall’s 13-1 nationally ranked season in 2014. He missed the first two games, and finished the season with 553 snaps.
The secondary lost NFL-drafted corner Darryl “Swagg” Roberts – a New England Patriots’ rookie -- and redshirt junior Corey Tindal is moving to Roberts’ former boundary corner spot, where he’s backed up by sophomore Antavis Rowe. Baxter’s backup on the other side is redshirt sophomore Rodney Allen, a converted wideout.
It’s a group in which Heater is looking for playmakers, saying the Herd “corners have to cover and make plays for us to do defensively what we want to do.”
That’s why Baxter has been frustrated with his missed time. He loves playing the man coverage Heater schemes.
“I love Coach Heater’s system,” Baxter said. “It’s more aggressive, and it allows the DBs to use our talents and abilities and it fits me because my style of play. It’s a good defense for all of us. You play fast, don’t think a lot, just go and play.”
Baxter, 23, started his senior season early.
“I worked out with Rodney Allen and ‘Skip’ Rowe all summer,” Baxter said. “Coach Heater wanted me to take Skip and Rodney under my wing, so I had those guys with me all day and I was pushing them and they were pushing me. Because we all play same position and we were being competitive with one another and it was great. I wanted to get them and show them how to work in the weight room so they can be good on the field.”
Baxter, one of 18 seniors on the Herd roster, said the loss of six starters on his side of the ball doesn’t leave Coach Doc Holliday’s team scrambling to cope.
“People are going to think that because we lost a lot of key players,” Baxter said, “but we brought a lot of guys back who have contributed for the last two or three years, guys who have played a whole lot of football here … Tindal, AJ (Leggett, safety), D.J. (Hunter, linebacker), Jock (tackle Jarquez Samuel), some others. And we’ve got some young guys here who are going to be really good.”
What Baxter wants is to add to his one career interception, made in his sophomore season against UAB. It’s been a long – and sometimes rocky – road since then. But he’s among the top few most athletic players the Herd has. His vertical and broad jumps are among the top five on the squad.
“His measurables, he’s outstanding,” Heater said. “The key for Keith is staying healthy, then go make plays like he can. He’s a guy who’s done everything right and I’m looking for him to perform and have a great year.
“Our corners have to go out there and cover people, make plays like guys have done in the past, so that’s what we’re hoping will happen. We need him to be a playmaking guy. No reason he won’t.”