Sep 3, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – To alter a time-worn adage … good things come to those who are Waiters.
Marshall junior linebacker Raheem Waiters would smile his great smile at that. He capped the Thundering Herd’s 52-14 season-opening victory over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday night with a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
It was eerily similar to the events at one of the Herd’s August scrimmages, when the 6-foot, 218-pounder from Quincy got a pick-six as one of his two eye-opening interceptions … except this was for real.
And it had been a long time between end zone appearances for the dogged defender, who came to Marshall as a grayshirt, somewhat still lame after an ACL tear suffered in high school, then fractured a hand and has gone through multiple meniscus tears and surgery on both knees last winter.
“Raheem is just a tremendous kid who works extremely hard,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said Tuesday. “He does everything we’ve asked him to do. Good things happen when you work as hard as he works.
“He’s played a lot of places for us, played a lot of roles on special teams, contributed in a lot of ways. And it was great to see him in the end zone, great to see that happen to him.”
It had been awhile.
Waiters had last scored a touchdown as a Riverside High senior star receiver and return man almost four years ago, on Sept. 18, 2009. He returned a punt 85 yards to score and had a 33-yard TD run in a 21-6 victory over visiting Cabell Midland.
Two games later, he tore an ACL blocking an extra point in a loss to George Washington – “a freak accident,” Waiters said Monday.
He already had committed to Marshall four months earlier. Through a coaching change from Mark Snyder
to Holliday, the Herd stuck with Waiters – then 175 pounds. And although he has gained 40-plus pounds since those days when he was the high-point scorer in the high school state track meet as a junior in the spring of 2009, he’s still one of the faster and quicker Herd players.
“It was nice,” Waiters said of his pick of Miami quarterback Austin Boucher that finished the Marshall scoring. “It was kind of shocking, but at the same time it was exciting. It just felt great to celebrate with my teammates in the end zone, and it felt great to contribute to the team.”
Waiters played against Miami at the will and sam linebacker spots, and was at the former when he made his first interception in a Herd uniform.
“It was just like the (mid-August) scrimmage,” Waiters said. “We were in the same coverage again, where I take the (running back) out of the backfield or read the quarterback. The set we were in, I read the quarterback and he looked that way, and I took off that way and it looked like he threw it right to me.
“I felt like I was the receiver.”
That’s a familiar feeling. And there was one man in the Edwards Stadium crowd of 27,000-plus who could say he saw Waiters’ last three touchdowns – former Riverside coach Ralph Hensley was in the stands.
And when the Herd, as a team, went around the stadium bowl to thanks the fans, Hensley managed to congratulate his former star player.
“Coach Hensley, he was in the stands and he was pretty excited about it,” Waiters said. “When we went around the stands, he was there. He told me, ‘You’ve still got it.’ I appreciated that a lot.”
Waiters said his late pick on a night when the Herd’s retooled defense emerged and impressed “showed that we’re going to come out and play every game to the last … A lot of what we did was really good. We’ll make a few adjustments, but overall, it was a great game.”
One item the Herd defense wants to do is what waiters did – get turnovers.
“We do need to continue to get better,” Waiters said. “Our coaches (defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and linebacker coach Adam Fuller) talk a lot about complacency, not being satisfied or comfortable where we are.
“We just have to continue to go out and play harder, get better in each game.”