MCGILL: New Faces Lead Way at Receiver for @HerdFB|
Sept. 8, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Of the 20 passes Marshall completed in its season opener, 18 were caught by players making their debut with the Thundering Herd. No two players had more receptions than redshirt freshman Willie Johnson (seven) and junior Marcel Williams (five).
Johnson, who played until the fourth game of last season before experiencing a season-ending injury, finished last Saturday's win against Miami with a team-high 88 yards and the longest reception of the game, 49 yards. Williams finished with 30 receiving yards, and was credited by teammate Keion Davis for a touchdown-springing block on one of Davis’ two kickoff returns for a score.
MU coach Doc Holliday announced Tuesday that Williams will be the offensive captain for this Saturday’s game at North Carolina State (0-1). Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
“He understands that it’s a blessing for him to be here,” receivers coach Dallas Baker said of Williams. “A guy who had to go to junior college, signs here with Marshall and notices the talent we had. He took it the way any receivers coach likes a player to take it. He came in, worked hard, went to class, did everything we asked from him.
“You hope for something like this to happen for a kid who does everything he’s supposed to do on and off the field.”
Williams is a 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior from Palm Coast, Florida, and starred last season at Ellsworth Community College. He saw ample game action in his FBS debut, along with Johnson, who saw a little Division I action last season – four receptions for 52 yards – before being sidelined.
“It felt awesome being back out there,” Johnson said. “Just being able to run and catch a few balls and make a few big plays.”
Baker hesitated to heap too much onto the younger Johnson, a 6-0, 171 freshman from Fort Myers, Florida. Johnson was a decorated player coming out of high school – ESPN rated him a 4-star prospect – who had offers from throughout major college football. The outside receiver with 4.31 speed in the 40-yard dash is back to full strength after missing most of his rookie year with an injury.
“It was tough for me, rough for me,” Johnson said. “I was a true freshman coming in playing and the injury set me back. I was depressed and down for a while, but I had my teammates there for me. They stayed on me and helped me get through it.”
Johnson rebounded and ascended to the starting unit, and is developing into one of quarterback Chase Litton’s favorite targets.
“He’s a guy who knows he’s good,” Litton said. “He’s got the talent, the skill set, the work ethic. That’s not an average freshman.”
Johnson backed up Litton’s words on a third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter. Starting at Marshall’s 46, Johnson made the catch and raced 49 yards to give the Herd first-and-goal from the 5. MU lost yardage from there, but the timing of Johnson’s catch was critical. The Herd led 28-20, and a punt would have given Miami the ball back and within one-possession striking distance. Instead, Marshall added a field goal and changed the dynamics of the fourth quarter.
“I’m excited about Willie, but the way I’m taking it is the same way I’m coaching him to take it: one game at a time,” Baker said. “He has some gifts, but I don’t want to pat him on the back too much.”