Oct. 1, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – There was a time when Arnold Blackmon might have figured he’d be playing in Marshall’s Conference USA football opener Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
It wouldn’t have been for the Thundering Herd, however.
Blackmon is the lone member of the Herd roster from the Lone Star State, and a No. 2 at defensive end now that Jeremiah Taylor’s back injury has the veteran starter sidelined indefinitely. He could have easily seen himself at “The Joan,” but with the Herd’s homecoming visitor, UTSA.
“They recruited me heavily out of high school,” said Blackmon, of Bellaire, Texas, a Houston suburb. “I got a few calls from them while I was in (Navarro) junior college, not too much but they did come and talk to me. I visited there once.
“I know a couple of guys there, not too many, a couple of guys from my district that I hung out with a lot and I knew well because of our football stats … It will be nice to see some other Texas guys out there.”
In need of more pressure on the quarterback, Herd coach Doc Holliday cast a wide recruiting net that landed Blackmon in the 2013 signing class. The 6-foot-1, 242-pound junior – his teammates call him “AB” -- hoped to be in Huntington last January, but was delayed because of course requirements at his junior college. He finally came to town in late May.
“I’m very surprised, actually,” Blackmon said when asked if he’d expected to be recruited by and signed by the Herd. “There’s no way I ever expected to be in Huntington, W.Va., but I’m glad that I am here.
“It’s a great group of guys that I’m around, and the defense fits me, too, a 4-3. Coming from a 3-4 in high school and going to a 4-3 in junior college, that was a great transition for me then.
“In junior college, they had me play a few different positions, but I’m comfortable where I am now.”
The Roadrunners (2-3, 1-0) are in only their third football season, all under veteran Coach Larry Coker, who went 60-15 in six seasons at Miami (Fla.), including a 2001 debut with a national championship team.
He started the UTSA program from scratch to FBS status and the Roadrunners played their first season in 2011. They’ve finished 4-6 and 8-4 in two previous seasons and come to Marshall (2-2, 0-0) for a first meeting.
“I’m very surprised,” Blackmon said, considering UTSA’s rise in the sport. “Coming up through high school, especially my freshman through junior years, they weren’t a big school … To see them progress to where they are today, it’s going to be fun to go against those guys on Saturday.”
With Taylor injured in the first half of a loss at Ohio, Blackmon got plenty more snaps in the Herd’s triple-overtime loss at Virginia Tech, playing behind redshirt junior Ra’Shawde Myers. Graduate student Alex Bazzie is backed up by redshirt freshman Gary Thompson at the other MU end spot.
“Arnold’s getting more playing time since JT’s been hurt, so obviously he and other guys have to step up now,” Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. “He’s progressing, playing better, picking up the pace.
“Arnold’s got talent, and we’re really glad he’s here, and he needs to keep improving because his playing time will increase.”
Blackmon said he didn’t quite know how to handle the news that he was going to get more opportunity because of Taylor’s injury.
“When I heard the news it was exciting to me and also devastating at the same time,’ the Herd defensive end said. “I didn’t really know how to be excited about it, but I’m just happy to be one of the guys that can roll in because JT as well as Ra’Shawde, they’ve showed me so much and brought me up as young guy on defense.”
He said playing for Heater is an eye-opener.
“He’s a great guy, great coach,” Blackmon said. “He’s full of energy, brings a lot of enthusiasm to practice and to the games. You couldn’t ask more from a coach, but the thing I like the most is he’s very aggressive.
“We don’t lay down for anybody. We come out, we start fast and we try to finish fast as well.”
The depth on the defensive front has allowed the Herd to cope with injuries to Taylor and nose tackle Brandon Sparrow, who is expected back against UTSA after missing two games. That depth also limits playing time, a subject Blackmon also tackled.
‘There’s always in the back of your mind, ‘What if I played more?’” he said, “but then again, you’ve got to keep your guys fresh that way, so the time they are in there, they can give 100 percent. It’s not about the number of reps but about the quality of reps. It’s about being 100 percent out there every day.”
Blackmon said he feels ready to contribute more after his delayed arrival to the Herd program, too.
“I was excited when I first realized I was coming here, but (there were) just some class situations and miscommunication between a few of my (junior college) teachers and me,” said Blackmon, a business management major. “Things I could have avoided, but it was just one of those things where I should have stayed on top of everything.
“It (missing spring practice) most definitely set me back. I couldn’t so much during the spring, just stay on top of my classes and get here as soon as I could. It was a minor setback.
Blackmon says he’s a guy who has been eyes and ears wide-open since arriving in the Kelly green camp.
“I’ve learned a lot more the last few weeks here than I knew about playing football my entire career,” the Texan said. “(August) camp was tough for me because I’d never been through anything like that before.
“Adjusting to the strain is the biggest thing (he’s had to learn). It’s a strain to the classroom. It’s a strain on the football field, and it’s about going and continuing to push through the things you aren’t used to pushing through … just being a polished athlete, especially with (FBS) ball.”