BOGACZYK: Reaves Brings Many Happy Returns to Herd
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 1, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va.-- When a review of the current run of success in Marshall football is considered down the road, the names most often on the radar will be Cato, Shuler, Hewitt, Jasperse, McKelvey, Johnson, Roberts, Rouse, Hunter, Haig ...
Don't finish that growing list without naming Deandre Reaves ... or Tyler Williams and Matt Cincotta. Those three 2015 seniors have been very special -- with returns, punts and snaps, respectively -- on special teams for the Herd, an integral part of the persona of Coach Doc Holliday's program.
With Old Dominion coming to Edwards Stadium on Saturday for the Conference USA opener, Reaves owns 2,405 career all-purpose yards. Of that total, 2,109 have come on kickoff returns, and that's a number that is Marshall's career record.
A receiver "by trade," the Sterling, Va., resident has only 15 career receptions for 182 yards. But in the last five games, Reaves has a pair of 93-yard kick returns for touchdowns -- one in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl and one last Saturday in a double-overtime win at Kent State when the Herd offense was struggling.
"We're held to high expectations on special teams," Reaves said earlier this week. "Our best players play on special teams. I don't want to say we spend way too much time, but we spend a lot of time on special teams, to where we are expected to make big plays and execute our assignments.
"We spend close to an hour every day on special teams, whether it's in meetings, on the field. So, special teams is a big part of Marshall football. It can determine whether you win the game or whether you lose it, so that's why we spend so much time."
The 5-foot-9, 179-pound Reaves, who already has his MU undergraduate degree in marketing, has been a kick return star since his sophomore season -- after returning no punts or kicks as a freshman in 2012. Now, he's one of those senior example-setters on special teams, with players like Williams and Cincotta and other starters who also start on offense and defense.
"I don't think it's necessarily just seniors," Reaves said when asked about veterans occupying key roles on special teams. "I think it's that we've been on special teams the majority of our time here, so we're just the older guys trying to bring up the young guys, and get them to understand how important special teams play is.
"We all like to be on offense and score touchdowns and yeah, they like to be on defense and create turnovers, but special teams is probably one of the most important parts of football, and that's why there are a lot of seniors -- a lot of veterans -- on special teams."
Reaves, who ran for more than 5,600 yards with 68 touchdowns in his career at Dominion High in northern Virginia, took to the Herd return game quickly. He said it helped that he had handled the role in high school, but it was mostly about wanting to get on the field as soon as possible in major college football.
"Not at all," Reaves said when asked if his returner's role was tough to embrace. "We're told here the best players play on special teams, so when I got the opportunity to be a kick returner, I felt honored, because then I felt I was one of those guys who could help the team out and put the team in the best position to win. And I took it that those guys believed in me, and took it from there.
"Absolutely, it can determine whether you win or lose a game. It can change a game, if you make a big play on special teams. It can give your team that juice that it needs -- especially if you're down. It's something I've embraced ever since I got the opportunity to be onboard."
Reaves returned six punts in 2013, but didn't return to that role until last Saturday at Kent State. He smiled when asked about the expansion of his return role.
"Kick return and punt return are two different things," he said. "Punt return, you've got someone running at you 100 miles per hour and he may be untouched, and you've got to make the decision whether you fair catch or catch the ball and try to make him miss.
"In kick return, those guys are getting blocked, so really on kick returns, you're trying to read the holes and trying to find seams. But on punt returns, it's making guys miss and then trying to find the holes and seams."
On his TD return against the Golden Flashes, Reaves said, "All of 10 of those guys (on his unit) blocked who they were supposed to block, nobody had any MA's (missed assignments) on that scheme, which is why it turned out to be a big play."
Holliday has lauded the Herd's special teams play through the first month of the 2015 season. It wasn't any different after the victory at Kent.
"We won that game last week because of our special teams, to be honest," the Herd coach said. "We found a way at the end of the game to win, which is the important thing, but at the end of the day we flipped field position with our punts and 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Our guys went in there and kicked extra-points and Reaves had a couple of nice punt returns there.
"Every time we either kicked off or punted the ball, we gained 20 yards in field position based on their punt and their kickoff return. If we can keep flipping the field and keep playing great special teams and play great defense, that's where it starts. We have to continue to do that."
As for Reaves, he understands his starring role for the Herd, but what if he had the chance to catch passes instead of returning kicks?
"It's whichever way I can help the team," he said. "I like doing both. If they need me to just catch passes, I'll just catch passes. If they just need me to just catch kicks, I'll just catch kicks ... Whatever they need."
How about filling in at center for Michael Selby?
"I may need to eat a little bit," Reaves said, grinning, "but, hey, if I need to, I will."