Aug. 30, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Dominick LeGrande has the name for the opening game of his final college football season. Marshall’s new strong safety also has the game.
Translating his surname into the English adjective from French, LeGrande is “great, big, large.” That defines the 2012 Friends of Coal Bowl, with the Thundering Herd heading to No. 11 West Virginia at noon Saturday.
Big game? Sure. Big atmosphere? Yes.
But then LeGrande, one of two Herd graduate transfers from Boston College – joining free safety Okechukwu “O” Okoroha – has been there before.
A sellout crowd of 60,000 at Mountaineer Field isn’t likely to intimidate LeGrande, who has been there, done that in three seasons with the ACC’s Eagles.
The biggest stadium he’s played in – 82,300-seat Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State. Anywhere else?
“Yeah, played at Clemson (80,301 in Death Valley), too” the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder said.
BC’s Catholic rival Notre Dame (80,795)?
“Yeah,” he said.
Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium (65,115)?
“Uh-huh,’ he replied.
So, playing at WVU is no big deal, right?
“I’m not going to say it’s no big deal,” LeGrande said, smiling, “But it is going to be a hostile environment, and I do know how to handle those.
“I kind of feel like a crowd is just a crowd, but when you’re out there during a game, you have so many things going on, you’ve got to focus on what you’ve got to do, read your keys, and you really tune the crowd out.
“A crowd is just there, a crowd being a crowd.”
Then, LeGrande should have been accustomed to crowds since he was a pint-sized guy. He’s from New York City (population 8.24 million), Staten Island, to be exact. The island itself has 469,000 residents.
LeGrande, Okoroha and Penn State transfer cornerback Derrick Thomas have brought not only starter-quality talent to the Thundering Herd, but have mightily altered the depth and lack of experience in coordinator Chris Rippon’s defense.
The BC transfers also have brought a dose of enthusiasm to Coach Doc Holliday’s team, after they didn’t play for the Eagles last season.
“I had the whole year off,”LeGrande said, “and I missed (the game). I can’t wait to get out there, the first game. I’m excited, real excited.”
LeGrande said he went to one BC game last season, sitting in the stands at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and while he was there, well, he wasn’t.
“I went to one BC game, but I felt really, really weird,” said LeGrande, who played in two bowls in his three BC seasons (2008-10). “I’d see my boys out there playing and I felt like I really didn’t know those guys. It was like, a huge difference.”
While the aforementioned transfers have delivered big-time experience to the Herd, they also haven’t brought big-time attitude. There’s no indication other than on the field that they played for BCS programs with tradition, legendary players and coaches, and Heisman Trophy winners.
“It’s been a great fit, better than I hoped for,” LeGrande said of his Herd landing. “I knew I’d end up somewhere. I just wanted to graduate (at BC in May) and everything, hand in my books. That was first and foremost. Just take it one step at a time, helped me out a lot.
“Here, we meshed, came together really fast, got acclimated to the team, coaches, everybody’s real cool now. I believe everything happens for a reason, and all the pieces came together, one day at a time.”
LeGrande isn’t worried about playing before what figures to be a raucous crowd for the final date of a seven-game contract between the in-state foes, and WVU’s first game as a Big 12 Conference member. He said the concentration is focused on what the Herd defense will face on the Mountaineer Field turf … and for good reason.
LeGrande said Mountaineer senior quarterback Geno Smith might be the best he’s faced in his collegiate career, no matter the location.
“I’d put him at the top of the guys I’ve played against,” the Herd safety said, “with the Tyrod Taylors (Virginia Tech), Russell Wilsons (N.C. State), the Christian Ponders (Florida State).”
Smith has been particularly troublesome to Marshall, guiding a comeback in the 2010 Coal Bowl at Edwards Stadium as WVU won in overtime.
In three games again the Herd – he was in long relief as a 2009 freshman after Jarrett Brown was injured – Smith has completed 73-of-101 passing (.723) for 712 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s been sacked five times, but as Holliday pointed out in his Tuesday press conference, Smith also has also scrambled for Herd-hurting yardage that includes 13, 15, 17 and 20-yarders.
“He’s a great quarterback and he can really do some damage if you don’t ruffle him, get to him and put him out of his comfort level,” LeGrande said of Smith. “The guy can put that ball anywhere you ask him to. He’s an impressive quarterback.”
LeGrande will be facing the seventh AP-ranked team he’s gone against in his career. And while he’s happy to be back in the game after a year’s absence, he just as much appreciates the opening challenge.
“You’ve got to love that, you’ve got to rise to the occasion,” LeGrande said. “That’s what you want. You want to play against the best guys. You want to feel like you’re the best, so you want to play against the best.”