Sept. 17, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – If Marshall’s football program were to give out an award this season for “making up for lost time,” then James Rouse is obviously the early leader.
When the redshirt senior – more on that later – took the field as the starter at defensive tackle in the Thundering Herd’s season opener against Miami (Ohio), it had been nearly two years since Rouse had played.
He’s changed jersey numbers – 92 to 11. He’s changed positions. He’s gotten married. He’s got one degree and is working on another.
Now, he’s on the field, and making the most of it, as the Herd (2-1) heads to a road location with which Rouse is very familiar – Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium.
Rouse and his Harrisonburg (Va.) High school teammates used to motor down I-81 to Blacksburg to watch the Hokies play. Now, he’ll get to do that up close … and as the early season sack leader for the Herd.
“They paid a little attention to me (in recruiting), but I committed to Marshall during my junior year,” Rouse said of a Tech program that has gone bowling for 20 straight seasons. “It’s fun going back playing in Virginia and I have all of my friends, family coming to the game and stuff.
‘It will be a good atmosphere. I’ll probably have around 15-20 (there), if I can get enough tickets. It will be fun to have everybody there and see some familiar faces and stuff.
“Some people might have to pay for their tickets, because I don’t think I can come up with as many as everybody wants, so somebody’s going to have to pay at the gate, but it’s all good.”
Rouse is having a good time, to date. He’s been a Marshall weekly captain three times in four games – so, obviously, he’s impressed the selecting coaching staff -- and has 2.5 sacks among his four tackles for losses.
He admits surprise, too, that he’s gotten so much attention early in the season from opposing blockers.
“There’s holding on every play,” Rouse said, smiling and not complaining. “They just don’t call it on every play.”
Now, he’s finally going to get to play Tech, a game that closes a 2-for-1 contract that spans Rouse’s career – and his Marshall position coach is one-time Hokies defensive line star J.C. Price, too.
For Tech’s punishing ground-game home romp past the Herd in 2009, he was in his redshirt season. In 2011 when the Hokies came to Edwards Stadium and won 30-10, Rouse was on the shelf – having suffered a back injury in the previous game that was painful to more than him. It was the 44-7 loss at Ohio’s Peden Stadium.
“It feels good, great,” Rouse said Monday when asked his emotions about finally getting back on the field. “I ended up playing 65 plays (Saturday night at Ohio). I didn’t realize I played that many. It’s probably the most I’ve played since I’ve been here, didn’t feel like play that many.”
He came to Marshall as a 195-pound high school two-way end, and his early MU playing days were at defensive end. That was about 30 pounds ago, but the 6-foot-5, 268-pounder is happy at the 3-technique spot, where his “explosiveness” is more of a factor in interior matchups.
“Honestly, I don't try to do anything special, just go out there and play as hard as I can, hope everything falls my way,” said Rouse, who graduated in May with a degree in criminal justice and now is working on a second sheepskin in psychology. “I know from experience that there's not much guaranteed. I just try to go as hard as I can.
"Everything else that's happening is due to the fact that all of the D-linemen are playing well, the linebackers are giving us the calls we need and I'm in the right position to make plays.”
The fact he’s in position at all isn’t lost on Rouse, who certainly has proven there’s a difference in being on a football roster and playing on a football team.
With seven career starts between the 2010 and ’11 seasons, Rouse finally returned to the field in the spring of 2012, when he moved inside from end. Then, he tore his left Achilles tendon on April 12.
“When I tore my Achilles I took it really hard because I knew it was a real serious injury,” Rouse said earlier this year. “A lot of people don’t get back from it and play. But my coaches kept me focused, doing rehab, and encouraged me. It was six months before I started to feel better from that, like I could maybe play.”
Then, at midseason last fall, before he even had a chance to return to competition, Rouse underwent back surgery – “to fix what was wrong there from before,” he said -- to have a herniated disc repaired.
He is one of only seven original scholarship players left on the Marshall roster from former Coach Mark Snyder’s program.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is you’ve got to play low, really low,” Rouse said of the move inside to tackle. “In practice, you tend to get high because it’s practice and in the game you have to stay as low as you possibly can because offensive linemen cut. You don’t cut in practice, so you have to learn to play off all kind of blocks and stuff.
“The biggest change (from two years ago, when he plat played) is every team is hurry-up now, or almost every one. That changed a lot, but offensive line play hasn’t changed much since I’ve been out.
“A big difference is on the outside, you’re not engaging in blocks all the time, so it might be a play away, but inside you’re always going to have two or three hands on you at a time, so you have to be in a lot better shape … I love it in there.”
His teammates seem to love he’s in there, too.
“He’s a joy to have,” Marshall middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes said. “I especially like having him in front of me … keeps the big boys (off), I love it a lot. I never saw him play until this year like this.
“My freshman year (2011), at first when saw him, I thought he was a coach because he was just always getting around (while injured). He surprised me, too. I didn’t realize he was as dominant, like he is. You can’t coach that.”
Rouse is one of 17 seniors on the Herd roster, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be around for more of what he calls “fun” in 2014.
Before the season, Herd coach Doc Holliday said the football program would petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility for Rouse, who missed nine games in 2011 and all of the 2012 season.
“He probably has two more years because of all of the injuries and missed time he’s had, but we’ll take it one year at a time,” Holliday said then. “Well get James back out there playing and we’ll worry about Year 6 after that … He’s good football player, a natural in there.”
Rouse, meanwhile, is taking it one tackle at a time, and appreciating the chance to finally play again.
“I don’t even know,” Rouse said when asked about an NCAA eligibility petition. “We haven’t even talked about it since the season (began). Right now I’m just focused on this season and after that, whatever happens, happens.
“If I get another one, I’ll go from there.”
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Besides Rouse, the Herd game captains for Virginia Tech are cornerback Darryl “Swag” Roberts on defense and quarterback Rakeem Cato and center Chris Jasperse on offense. While it is Rouse’s third selection, Jasperse has been picked for a second time. They are the only multiple captaincies to date.