BOGACZYK: Start to Finish, Blackmon `All Over the Place'
The Word on the Herd-September 4, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Arnold Blackmon started ... and then he really finished.
Blackmon made his first career start for Marshall on Saturday in the Thundering Herd's season-opening 42-27 football victory at Miami (Ohio), and he closed the game with two exclamation points.
With the Herd having tacked on an insurance score with 2:01 to play, the RedHawks had driven to their 38 when the Marshall senior defensive end sacked Miami quarterback Andrew Hendrix for 5- and 7-yard losses on third and fourth down, respectively.
End of game.
Blackmon, from Houston, had half of the Herd sacks in the game - and on Tuesday, the 6-foot-2, 243-pound Texan was named as one of four Herd game captains (joining safety A.J. Leggett, running back Devon Johnson and tight end Eric Frohnapfel) by Coach Doc Holliday for the home opener Saturday at 7 p.m. at Edwards Stadium against Rhode Island (0-0).
That captaincy is a first for Blackmon, too. The one last Saturday left him somewhat awed.
"I was extremely excited," Blackmon said earlier this week of his first start. "I can't even begin to tell you how I felt, but it was just a powerful, overwhelming feeling, being able to step out there first on the field.
"And it didn't really sink in until a few minutes before kickoff, but I finally got the jitterbugs out of my system and the butterflies out of my stomach and was able to perform."
Holliday said Blackmon surely didn't disappoint in his first start.
"He played extremely well," Holliday said at his weekly news conference. "He had the highest production points of anybody on the defense and he was all over the place. He had a couple sacks.
"Right now he is playing at an extremely high level. That whole defensive line played well. There was about eight or nine guys who played but hopefully, we will play more this week."
Blackmon arrived at Marshall in the summer of 2013 - several months later from junior college than expected, so he missed 2013 spring practice. Once he got into the mix, he was playing with the second or third unit. Signed from Navarro College for his pass-rushing skills, he was a bit light up front at 228 pounds.
He solved that this summer in the weight room, adding 15 pounds and needed strength.
"My adding weight has made a difference," he said. "I feel like I can stay on blocks now. It's helped physically, and it's given me a lot more confidence, too."
Prior to the opener, Herd offensive right tackle Clint Van horn predicted Blackmon would have an eye-opening season. After the two-sack day, Van Horn was asked about that.
"It showed in the game; he came out and had two sacks," said Van Horn, who goes against Blackmon when the ones face the ones in practice. "In the spring is when I saw him make his greatest strides, and not really in terms of play, but in effort.
"He started giving a lot more effort, caring a lot more. Care factor is something that Coach (Chuck) Heater (defensive coordinator) talks about a lot. Last week, in meetings, Coach Heater stayed on the defense. He'll call you out. Our coaches aren't going to sugarcoat anything.
"It was important that Blackmon had a good spring, because he came out in camp and showed he could get better and improve and I think it showed in this game, and I think he's going to get better every week."
Blackmon was part of a rolling defensive line rotation that brought nine linemen onto the field in the first half at Miami. The senior said it helps the Herd stay fresh up front - especially when a team has 30 minutes time of possession over the first three quarters, as the RedHawks did.
Blackmon said he played about half of the 85 defensive snaps in the game.
"There wasn't a play where I was tired and that's a testament to the D-line," Blackmon said. "It was definitely a struggle (the time on the field in the second and third quarters), but we still have to put it together. The thing I'm proudest about with the team, the entire team, the offense included, is we were extremely poised, we handled the chaos and handled the adversity really well."
He won the starting job in August camp, and said he thought he did so "by competing with those guys, keeping me on my toes."
Asked what helped besides his year of experience in the program, Blackmon didn't hesitate to answer.
"My versatility," he said. "My ability to rush the passer and also stop the run, I feel was a great attribute to my game, because some guys are pass rushers and some guys are run stoppers. And I feel like my versatility, with both, actually helped me become a `one.'
"Now, it's like I want to prove to people that I earned it, and you're not there because the coaches gave it to you. You just have to stay hungry, stay ready, keep working hard. There's always competition."
Blackmon said the Herd defense looks at the opening victory as "a bittersweet" experience.
Asked what Heater tried to impress on his defensive unit, Blackmon elaborated.
"Being more consistent getting the ball," Blackmon said. "We all assume we're ready and we've arrived, and that's not true. We all had a false sense of confidence going into the game. We need to be more consistent getting the ball, running to the ball and not assume that other people are going to make plays for us.
"We didn't have much information on (Miami, with a new coaching staff) and we went into it blind and we didn't have any expectations about it ... We just competed to the best of our ability and we competed with ourselves.
"We can only take it one game at a time ... Don't look too far ahead and compete with ourselves because it's really not about the other team. We have to focus on us and prepare to the best of our ability. And if we do what we have to do and take care of business week-in and week-out, we'll be fine."