Oct. 21, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When preseason camp began in August, Kevin Grooms looked to be primed to be the 11th Marshall running back to post at least one 1,000-yard season.
And why not?
The Marshall redshirt sophomore was the 2012 Conference USA Freshman of the Year after a 737-yard season in which he split time with three other backs and got only three starts. He had 4.3 speed, and his cutting ability was something for which opposing defenses could not game plan.
There’s been no question about his talent. He had rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in his high career at South Broward in Hollywood, Fla., and was recruited by Florida’s “big three” programs among others, including Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
To say Grooms second season in a Herd uniform has been frustrating would be an understatement the combined size of the nine defensive linemen coach Doc Holliday’s team regularly rolls in and out.
“It’s been very difficult,” Grooms said after practice Sunday, “but I’ve got to know that the coaches know what’s best for me. And when they do put me out there, I’ve got to be able to make plays.”
The 5-foot-10, 168-pounder has tried to run following a high left ankle sprain he suffered during the first week of August camp. That’s 11 weeks ago, as C-USA East-leading Marshall (4-2, 2-0) heads for Thursday night’s date at Middle Tennessee (3-4, 1-2).
While senior Essray Taliaferro has gotten all six Herd starts at running back, Grooms has played in four games (missing dates against Gardner-Webb and Virginia Tech). He’s rushed 46 times for 175 yards and three scores, and has five receptions for 23 yards.
But just about every postgame media session after Grooms has played, Holliday has said the sophomore “isn’t quite there yet.”
So, is this the week? Is it against the Blue Raiders -- or at least on Nov. 2 when the Herd returns home to face winless Southern Miss – that Grooms will be the back he could be?
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Grooms said. “I can’t say. We’ll see though, because I’ve got 3-4 more days and I feel good and I’m practicing, moving how I usually practice. But, I mean, we’ll see and go from there.”
That’s been pretty much the situation all of this month. Grooms had a season-long 39-yard run in an opening win over Miami (Ohio), but he wasn’t kidding himself … and it’s gotten to be a frustratingly familiar feeling, he said.
“Well, I knew I wasn’t back,” Grooms said, “but whatever I need to do to help my team win … If the coaches put me out there for 3-4 plays, ask me to make a play, I’m going to do it.”
So, how will he know – and Holliday know – when he’s the real deal again?
“Because I’ll be able to cut without thinking about it and know that it’s strong,” he said. “It will be how I want it to be.”
Meanwhile, Grooms goes for rehab twice a day, for 60-90 minutes, working with stretch bands, doing ladder step downs, “so many different things it’s become routine,” he said.
“I’m getting there, going to treatment every day,” Grooms said. “I’ve been working hard ever since I injured myself. But like they said, it will take time, so I’m doing everything I can to get back to 100 percent and for my coaches to see what they know I’m capable of doing.”
He said he never had a high ankle sprain before and can’t believe it’s taken this long to bounce back. But for a running back like Grooms, his legs, ankles and feet are his main weapons – and he knows it.
“That’s the thing,” he said. “That’s the thing, but I’m just ready to get back to being myself … That the team is winning (without much Grooms’ yardage) is all that matters. As long as we’re winning, we have fun.”
Yeah, but a fun run is what Grooms really wants.