Sept. 10, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Gage Niemeyer found himself in unfamiliar territory last Saturday night at Edwards Stadium.
There was Niemeyer thundering deep into the Gardner-Webb secondary in advance of what would become Steward Butler’s 46-yard, first-quarter touchdown in Marshall’s 55-0 football romp.
Speaking of a romp, that’s what it was for Herd left tackle Niemeyer.
“It’s kind of just a hustle play,” Niemeyer said. “I reached my end (to block), did my job and then they say, ‘You get your job done, go downfield and get another job done.’
“So, I turned upfield and saw a safety, thought there was a chance for the play to keep going, and I’m going to make a cut … I guess I was 15-20 yards downfield, didn’t know for sure. I didn’t count.
“But I was moving. On film I actually looked halfway fast for the first time in my life, so I enjoyed it.”
After the game, Butler – he scored three times on the night – said he really didn’t see Niemeyer, and that he’d “see it on film.”
Uh, how do you not see all 6 feet 6, 297 pounds and helmeted Mohawk cut of Niemeyer in front of you?
Niemeyer laughed at that news.
“Everybody enjoyed it,” Niemeyer said when asked about the film review. “They liked it, said ‘good job,’ and really, I was just doing my job. I enjoy getting downfield. I don’t usually get a chance to get downfield, or then I get down there and they make me miss or something.”
Niemeyer is getting more places than downfield. He won the Herd’s starting left tackle job when he impressed new offensive line coach Alex Mirabal. He’ll be there Saturday night when Marshall (2-0) goes to Ohio (1-1) for the “Battle for the Bell” rivalry renewal.
Niemeyer, a Hemet, Calif., native, came to Marshall as junior college transfer (Mount San Jacinto in California) prior to last season, when Herd coach Doc Holliday’s team needed offensive line help. He played both tackles last season, getting five starts on the right side when veteran Garrett Scott
was banged up. He played in all 12 games on offense, and also worked on field goal and PAT units.
This season, in two victories in which Marshall has scored more than 50 points back-to-back (in the same season) for the first time since the 1996 NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, Niemeyer has played 97 snaps. He’s 100 percent on his assignments (making the right move at the snap) and has graded out at 77 percent. His 10.5 knockdowns lead the Herd linemen.
“The biggest thing (in the first two games) has been focusing on our core values on the O-line,” Niemeyer said. “Fight and finish in pass pro(tection), fight as hard as you can in pass pro. It’s getting lined up, making our calls, getting our IDs, making sure everyone is on the same page, doing it the right way, the right way, understanding what you have to do.
“Dominate the scrimmage line, that’s what you have to do. First it was Miami (Ohio), and we got the job done. We won the game, but they came in and we had to improve so much, technique, footwork, everything. Against Gardner-Webb, the focus was on getting everything right, try to be as close to perfect as possible. Now, it’s just keep moving forward.
“I wouldn’t say ‘breathers’ (of the first two games). The first two came in and we didn’t take them lightly, but after the scores you put up you could say maybe they were breathers. But with all opponents, you shouldn’t take anyone lightly.
“Now, we’ve got Ohio, and they’re going to try to out-physical us, muscle us -- like they always do. We’re just not going to let that happen.”
Niemeyer was like most of his starting line mates in game-to-game improvement. From Week 1 to 2, the left tackle’s grade rose from 67 to 87 percent – the sharpest climb on the unit.
Niemeyer is one of three seniors on the Herd’s starting offensive front (with Scott and right guard Alex Schooler), to go with fourth-year junior Chris Jasperse at center. Redshirt sophomore Sebastian Johansson and redshirt junior Josh Lovell have been alternating at the fifth spot (left guard).
Redshirt senior Jordan Jeffries – the left tackle starter last season – has been backing up Niemeyer, and redshirt sophomore Clint Van Horn has been a find at right tackle and guard, too. The veteran group has paved the way for an improved Marshall running game, and the starting line has yet to yield a sack.
The arrival of the bearded Niemeyer last season raised the level of competition on the MU offensive line. This season, as one of 19 Herd seniors, he’s become one among what Holliday calls a group of “about 20-25) who are capable leaders in the program – although he’s only in his second season here.
“I feel like it’s always a competition, every day,” said Niemeyer, a business management major who has a 3.34 grade point average and is scheduled to graduate this December. “Once you feel like you’ve arrived and feel like you’re the guy, that gets you beat, you get complacent.
“It’s always a competition, but at the same time, I’m different. Last year, I wasn’t as vocal a guy, wasn’t really trying to get everybody up because I felt I wasn’t anybody who could, at that point. Now, I feel being a senior and being a starter on the O-line, I have to and that’s what I do.
“There won’t be any complacency from me. I know there’s competition every day.”
Holliday has said repeatedly since spring practice that finally, in his fourth season on the Herd sideline, that the offensive line is a strength. Niemeyer is one reason for that. So is Mirabal, who has brought more than a ‘big ‘uns” concept to the task since his offseason hire after six seasons at FIU.
“What have I learned from Coach Mirabal? Oh, wow, that’s a good one,” Niemeyer replied. “First, he’s a great leader on the offensive line. He focuses more on us being as one, on us making the calls, on us doing the little things right.
“All offensive line coaches … it’s, ‘You’ve got to be mean, you’ve got to be nasty.’ He says some of those same things, but he’s more of a team unity guy. Everything has to be by the team, and within the team we have to have another team – these five guys.
“That’s the biggest thing with him, understanding that we’re all one together.”
That’s true, even when one of them is one-on-one with a safety 20 yards from his stomping grounds.
# # #
On Tuesday, Holliday named the game captains for the trip to Ohio – and redshirt senior defensive tackle James Rouse has the honor for a second straight week. He’s the first repeat captain this season.
Rouse will be joined as a defensive captain by nickel Corey Tindal, the first redshirt freshman selected. The two offensive captains for the “Battle for the Bell” rivalry are junior slot receiver Tommy Shuler and redshirt junior center Chris Jasperse.