Waiters' Long Wait Appears to be Over|
Aug 22, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – As he runs through a litany of injuries, surgeries, setbacks and position address changes, you almost wonder why Marshall junior linebacker Raheem Waiters doesn’t add one more item to the list.
Waiters finally seems to be making the most of an opportunity to be in the mix for the Thundering Herd defense. He’s healthy, and it shows daily in practice, and especially in last weekend’s scrimmage – where Waiters had two interceptions, one for a touchdown, a pass breakup and three tackles.
“My legs are fine now,” Waiters said after the Herd’s 6 a.m. practice Thursday, when he got plenty of reps at sam linebacker. “I don’t think the (scrimmage performance) was so much a case of needing it (to prove himself).
“It does help to go out and make plays and get seen by the coaches. It adds to your confidence and it helps the team.”
Waiters, a one-time football and track and field star at Riverside High in Quincy, hit the latest potholes in a long road last winter. He had surgery on both knees, then was limited in spring practice – with new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and linebackers coach Adam Fuller getting their first looks at Herd talent.
“I don’t think missing (full contact) was too much of a disadvantage,” the 6-foot, 218-pound Waiters said. “I’d like to have played in the spring to show them what I can do, but I took a lot of mental reps, got into the playbook with the new defense.
“They told me if I played well in camp, being out in the spring really wouldn’t matter. Everything is set final in camp.”
And now Waiters finds himself in a mix of seven linebackers that Fuller has in his own two-deep of sorts. So, how did he get there?
“He’s shown a lot of improvement from (camp) practice 1 to today, No. 22,” Fuller said. “Even in spring, he couldn’t move around a lot. We tried to get him into a couple of skeletons (drills) but he had to go out and ice down.
“He did work all the vertical fits and he did a lot of things mentally. You could tell Raheem was sharp. His numbers, his jump and lifts and speed … That’s not really important if they don’t make plays, but when they’re starting to make plays it’s worth us investing in them because there’s a lot of upside there.
“So, I knew he had measurables. I knew he was conscientious, so he just really improved. He’s a lot more comfortable. We’ve actually put him in the box and I don’t think he’s ever really done that before. He’s actually pretty natural in there, so his value is really two-fold now, because he’s able to play two spots (sam and will).”
It’s been a long haul for a guy who had no other offers besides Marshall after tearing an ACL late in his senior season (2009) at Riverside. He had committed to then-Coach Mark Snyder’s program in June before his senior year, and the Herd stuck with him through his injury and a coaching change to Doc Holliday.
Waiters – then 175 pounds – grayshirted that first season under Holliday, so he didn’t enroll at MU until January 2011.
“I grayshirted with the ACL tear, and was at receiver, but then I broke my hand first spring I was here,” Waiters said, starting to recite the stutter-steps in his Herd days. “I got switched to defense (free safety), and played that whole year (2011) through a meniscus tear.
“Last season I got both of my meniscus injured. One was repaired and one was cleaned up, and I’m feeling great now. I got hurt in the earlier part of the season, but it was too late (to redshirt). I had to play through it.”
He underwent right knee surgery in December. In January, it was the left knee – “more extensive on that one,” Waiters said. The left knee needed “a complete meniscal repair.”
As a freshman free safety in ‘11, Waiters impressed on special teams as a “missile” on punt and kickoff coverage. His “measurables,” as Fuller said, offer a good baseline. Waiters ran the 40 a year ago in 4.37. His measured time in the 10 – showing burst – was an MU strength and conditioning record 1.44 seconds.
His combination of speed and strength made for a unique player.
“He was a great track guy, I know,” Fuller said.
Yes, Waiters was a two-time Class AAA discus champion in the State Track Meet (2009 and ’10). He was the ’09 Class AAA high-point man for the Warriors with the discus title and seconds in the 200 and 400 meters and a sixth in the 100.
“He was a wide receiver, great ball skills, natural around the football,” Fuller said. “You can see that out here. He lowers his pads, plays well enough in there and he’s physical.
“That’s usually the knock on guys who move those types of ways (from receiver to safety and/or linebacker); they aren’t physical.”
Waiters had started the 2012 opener – in the final Coal Bowl at West Virginia -- at sam linebacker. The next week, the Herd moved safety D.J. Hunter to that spot to get the talented redshirt freshman onto the field. So, Waiters moved again, this time to will linebacker to back up then-senior Devin Arrington.
Now, he’s mostly at “sam,” but Fuller said Waiters will play “will.” too.
“Just because of the function of defense now, he gets more inside work, and he really likes it and feels comfortable there,” the Herd linebackers coach said. “I think that’s part of the reason we’re seeing him more is we’re putting him in more. You’re getting a 220-pound kid who can run and is twitched up and throw him into the box … well, (against) these spread teams, he gets to show up.”
And when he shows up, Waiters knows what to do.
“You can never feel like you’re with the ones,” said Waiters, who had 21 tackles in 11 games a year ago. “You’ve got really good players behind you, above you. I just come out day-to-day and try to make plays.”
Waiters is one of four Mountain State products in what could be the Marshall two-deep right now, and he’s not embarrassed to say that he came to Marshall with no other college football offers. They all melted because he’s picked the Herd early and then he was injured, as the No. 3 prospect (Rivals.com) from West Virginia in 2010.
“I think it’s big,” Waiters said when asked how important it is that folks see in-state players perform for the Herd. “West Virginia is a state that’s not recruited very much, and I think an in-state guy actually getting in there and playing is big.
“It shows that, hey, there is talent out there in West Virginia.”