Oct. 29, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Gary Thompson made the first start of his college football career last week.
Who was the defensive lineman Thompson replaced for Marshall at Middle Tennessee? It was Alex Bazzie, who had started 18 consecutive games at the rush end spot the Herd labels as “Fox.”
It was a redshirt freshman replacing a senior. And who gets some of the credit – plenty of it -- for the young Californian’s progress for coach Doc Holliday’s Herd (4-3, 2-1)?
See, those familiar with the 50-year telecast institution that is “Jeopardy” know that host Alex Trebek provides the questions.
Alex Bazzie provides the answers, at least for Thompson.
“A guy like Gary Thompson, he’s just so eager to learn every bit of detail,” Bazzie said recently. “Gary asks me so many questions. ‘How do you do this?’ And that’s great.”
Go back to the Herd’s Oct. 5 Edwards Stadium win over UTSA. On the roadrunners’ first series, Bazzie tipped an Eric Soza pass, which became an interception by linebacker Evan McKelvey on the game’s first series.
On the next San Antonio possession – with Thompson subbed for Bazzie – the freshman got a tip that became a pick by fellow end Ra’Shawde Myers.
“As soon as I got the tip, I couldn’t even catch my breath, I was so happy celebrating,” Bazzie said. “Gary’s asking, ‘How do you get the tip? I’m serious; I’m going to get a tip.’ He’s just so serious, he wants to learn.
“He wants to go out there and show his athletic ability and he doesn’t want to look like a fool. And just to see a younger guy like that look up to you, not just look up to you but take the coaching and go out there and take the coaching and take advice, that helps a lot. And after I got a tip, he got a tip, and so it’s like, he’s really serious.”
Bazzie, from Silver Spring, Md., has become a mentor of sorts to Thompson. And except for experience, they’re pretty much the same player – both 6 feet 1, with Bazzie weighing one more pound, at 228.
Bazzie, 23, is more about unrelenting motor. Thompson, 18 (and second-youngest on the Marshall roster to kickoff man Amoreto Curraj), is stronger and faster.
Thompson, a one-time Southern Cal prospect, is prospering because Bazzie is helping as Marshall points toward a Saturday noon home date against Southern Mississippi (0-7, 0-3).
“It’s important to leave something for the younger guys. That’s how you build a program,” Bazzie said.
Bazzie doesn’t carry a whistle, but Thompson said the veteran end knows what’s going on.
“Just watching Bazz play has helped me a lot,” Thompson said. “It’s a lot easier soaking it in playing behind him. I can learn a lot actually. Maybe I ask a lot of questions driving him crazy, but I’m just trying to get better.
“It’s always good to ask my coaches something but I can’t see where it’s any better than asking the person I’m playing right behind, who’s doing the same things I’m supposed to do.
“It’s the exact same position, doing the exact same thing. So I’ll ask, ‘What do I need to do on this? … How can I do this better? … What do you do on certain kind of plays?’”
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Bazzie is going out there and playing hard,” Thompson said. “It’s about fundamentals. Don’t stop. Do you job … and do it full speed.
“The things I ask him about are pretty much everything I have questions out on the field … things I messed up on, things he messed up on. And what can I do so I don’t make the same mistake and the coaches yell at me.”
Bazzie smiled when he heard that.
“Every time he asks me a question and I answer him, he goes out there and tries to utilize it,” said Bazzie, a graduate student after finishing his bachelor’s degree (business marketing) back in May. “So, just to have guys like that -- and a (linebacker) Stefan Houston and (tackle) Josh Brown -- to have guys like that in a program like this is going to help build us for the future.
“That’s because as soon as I leave and these other seniors leave, you’re going to need guys like that … because now when the coaches talk to them, there’s not really much they have to say, because they’ve learned from their peers.
“That’s the best thing, to learn from their peers, because a coach isn’t out there playing. They do know the game, but they‘re not out there. Having those young guys like that helps out a lot and our willingness to work together shows how serious this team is about now and the future.”