Sept. 19, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The way Deandre Reaves looks at it, his opportunity in Marshall's football program was going to eventually come ... somewhere, somehow.
The fact that his wait to contribute seems to be over - at least for now - makes him think back to 2010, when he was running blindingly and roughshod through high school teams in a commonwealth where he will return to play on Saturday.
Asked earlier this week whether Reaves will be back on Saturday at Virginia Tech in a kickoff return role in which he made his debut in last weekend's loss at Ohio, Marshall coach Doc Holliday smiled and said, "Probably ... No. 1, he did a nice job."
The 5-foot-10, 176-pound redshirt sophomore and Sterling, Va., native seems set to be a deep man with senior running back Essray Taliaferro on the big stage at noon Saturday at Lane Stadium.
Reaves made his kick return debut late in the first half at Peden Stadium in MU's 34-31 loss, taking over after classmate Steward Butler fumbled a Bobcat kick until Ohio had recovered it for a touchdown.
"Bottom line," Holliday said, quickly adding to his comment on Reaves, "Steward Butler is going to be a good player for us. He's got to get out there and get back to work (Tuesday) and work extremely hard. He's going to play."
Reaves, who is a third-team slot receiver, spent part of August camp hopping between wideout and running back. He caught three passes for 33 yards in the Herd's Week 2 rout of FCS member Gardner-Webb, but his three returns for 77 yards against Ohio were something special to him.
"You've got to be patient," Reaves said when asked about getting an opportunity. "It feels good to finally get out there and be productive, help the team in any way possible. Right now, it's catching kicks and putting us in the best possible field position we can get, and we'll go from there.
"If my number is called and I have to go catch punts, I'll go catch punts."
He did that and made a 13-yard return against Gardner-Webb. That game was the first time he touched the ball in a Herd uniform. Last season, he made nine tackles in 10 games on special teams. Nineteen Herd receivers caught passes, but not Reaves.
"I didn't necessarily feel buried (on the depth chart at receiver)," Reaves said. "I just knew I had some older guys in front of me who had a lot of experience, and last year being my first year, I had to wait for an opportunity on the field.
"I got to know the system. Last year was a learning year for me to learn how to be really a receiver. I didn't take it as being buried, just took it as I needed to learn and my chance would come one day."
He needed to become a receiver because - before he sat out the 2011-12 year as a non-qualifier - Reaves had been a running back, virtual single-wing (think Wildcat) quarterback, defensive back and kick return man at Dominion High School in Loudoun County, Va.
He was a Washington Post All-Met second team pick as a 2010 senior, when he was Virginia All-Group AA first team. His numbers were astounding. Reaves had a career 5,100 yards rushing and 71 total touchdowns as a four-year starter.
As a senior, he led the Titans to their first playoff berth in the school's then eight-year history, rushing for 1,780 yards and scoring 31 touchdowns - including two on kick returns. He was a 1,000-yard rusher all four high school years, some of that taking direct snaps in that Wildcat set.
"I miss it a whole lot," Reaves said when asked about leaving running back behind. "I just miss having the ball in my hands, making plays, scoring. But I mean, Saturday night was real big, yes, getting the ball again. It kind of took me back to my high school days. It was fun getting out there like that."
The position flip-flopping in preseason camp didn't faze Reaves, who was moved to the backfield for a while after Kevin Grooms suffered a high ankle sprain. He never thought the move permanent, but if it happens again ...
"When you're playing a sport, unless you're playing quarterback in football, you don't really have a primary position, only one role," Reaves said. "Like what happened during camp, a running back went down, and being that I played running back in high school, I felt just as comfortable there as I did when they first put me at receiver.
"It was just something different, something I had to learn. But since I already played running back in high school, I had a feel for it. I didn't necessarily feel running back was my primary position and I still don't. Receiver is. But if I'm needed at running back, I'll be there. And if they want to move me to defense, I'll go play defense."
Reaves admitted he didn't always feel that way. He said the home-state Hokies recruited him, but only as a defensive back. That didn't appeal to him, and he committed to West Virginia, then changed his mind when Dana Holgorsen was named coach-in-waiting and the Bill Stewart-hired staff was about to change.
Reaves also said publicly he thought Marshall was a better option for him because "I decided I could have the opportunity to be a better student-athlete at a place that would have a better academic support system ... It just turned out to be a better fit for me."
Reaves said Tech "was highly interested in me, but just on defense. I didn't really want to play defense. I just had my mind kind of set on offense, but now that I'm here in college, I know and I've learned the best way to get on the field is wherever they need you. I just didn't look at it that way coming out of high school."
He also said the year he sat out to retain his eligibility turned into a plus.
"It got me another year to get into the system, learn and see what's going on, even if you're not really part of things in a way," Reaves said. "I learned a lot about what my role would be. I guess I kind of had two learning years, if you want to look at it like that."
Reaves appreciates the chance to play for Herd first-year receivers coach Mike Furrey, who caught 221 passes for 2,298 yards over seven NFL seasons (2003-09).
"Coach Furrey has been there, he's played in `The League.' so he knows what he's talking about 110 percent," Reaves said. "You just listen. Everything he's teaching us, he's learned in the NFL. So, if we use what he's learned in the NFL and we're in college, there's no way anyone should stop us."
What Reaves probably would enjoy is to have the Herd win the coin toss Saturday and take the ball, or have Tech win the toss and defer and let Marshall take the ball ... the opening kickoff coming his way.
"I live probably three hours from Virginia Tech," Reaves said of his northern Virginia home. "I have a bunch of family coming down for the game, friends, too. Tickets, I need to get as many as possible.
"I've got eight (family members) going now, and I'm looking for more."
Well, there is one thing Reaves does want his hands on more than those needed tickets.
That would be the football.