Aug 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – A year ago, Marshall was turning safeties into linebackers to fill vacancies.
Thanks to new faces like Neville Hewitt, Coach Doc Holliday doesn’t have to rob (secondary coach Chuck) Heater to pay (linebackers coach Adam) Fuller.
Hewitt, a junior college transfer, is one of at least 10 players who weren’t available last season and figure to play significant roles on the 2013 Herd defense – because they weren’t here, or they were injured.
Of the top seven Marshall linebackers on the field for Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage, only one was a linebacker last season -- middle LB Jermaine Holmes. Derek Mitchell was a backup safety – and mostly a special teams man -- until a couple of days before this year’s spring practice. Now, he’s a sam linebacker.
The others – Hewitt, Stefan Houston, Kent Turene (newcomers to the roster) and Evan McKelvey and Raheem Waiters (both injured early last season) weren’t available.
Hewitt has opened eyes quickly. He shared the tackles lead Saturday night with strong safety D.J. Hunter – speaking of a safety-turned-linebacker-turned-safety. Each had six, after Hewitt had five a week earlier in MU’s scrimmage debut.
After two seasons at Georgia Military College, Hewitt has arrived here at will linebacker with an impact, and has been running with the first team in recent days.
“That first game feels a whole lot closer,” Hewitt said after Saturday’s scrimmage, another strong effort for a defense that needed to be rebuilt from last season’s group that unraveled what became a 5-7 team. “For me, it’s a blessing to be out here, coming from a junior college to play at this level and with a team like this. It’s really a blessing for me.”
Herd coaches knew what they were getting when they recruited Hewitt. At Rockdale County High (Conyers, Ga.), Hewitt was a lone safety is a 3-5-3 defense. He was 6 feet 2, 190 pounds then. That was 30 pounds ago.
Back in 2011, he was offered by South Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Buffalo, and Mississippi State, Florida State and Maryland were interested, too.
“I didn’t qualify, so I chose junior college,” said Hewitt, whom fellow ‘backers have noticed is a quick study when Fuller is teaching in the Shewey Building meeting room. “It was a good move for me.”
Holliday has mentioned the play of Hewitt several times in his post-practice reviews at camp, and the Herd had a better chance at the linebacker because he couldn’t arrive here until mid-May when plenty of other JUCOs could join their FBS destinations in January.
“It did feel like it took a long time to get here,” Hewitt said, smiling. “But now I can’t wait until the 31st (season opener against Miami of Ohio). Being here this summer did help out a lot, bonding with teammates.”
He also said he felt his junior college, with its military trappings, was an aid, too.
“Georgia Military helped me a lot,” he said. “It helped me to be disciplined on the field, to take coaching, to be a good listener, be able to adapt faster to certain things. Kids that come out of high school might not do that.”
It also helped that Hewitt was in a good football program. GMC sent 10 signees to FBS programs, including three in the SEC (and four other players the FCS route) in the 2013 recruiting class.
Hewitt said he knows his time for major college success is limited to two years, so he feels an urgency to get on the field. And his competition with Houston and KcKelvey has been one of the more competitive in camp.
“I knew we had talent here, but I put in the work,” Hewitt said of his rise to the top of the depth chart. “I really like this defense. Once you learn the concepts, it’s not a complicated defense at all. I really love it. I thought I’d play ‘sam’ because that’s where I played in junior college, but it’s all worked out.”
Fuller has praised Hewitt’s effort and attitude. His athleticism has shined through the first two weeks of camp, too.
“I just wanted to come here and play,” he said. “We have a lot of new players here, and we’re all in the same situation. We want to compete and we want to win.
So, how does he stay with those ‘ones?’
“I’ve got to go hard, no days off, no plays off,” Hewitt said. “When I’m tired, just come home tired, but you can’t be like that on the field, because I know the guy right behind me is just as good.”