Oct. 30, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – When Coach Doc Holliday repeatedly talks about “young guys just needing to grow up” on his third Marshall football team, he is referencing players exactly like Deon Meadows.
And Meadows did a whole lot of growing up on a long Saturday night for the Herd.
The 5-foot-11, 223-pound Meadows was one of 10 scholarship true freshmen who played last season for Marshall, but his participation was on special teams. And his performance in five of the Herd’s first seven games this season was again on special teams and in a few backup or mop-up situations defensively.
That all changed on a rainy, chilly Saturday night in a 54-17 loss to UCF at Edwards Stadium.
Meadows got his chance at weakside linebacker when senior Devin Arrington went out with a knee injury late in the first quarter. The sophomore certainly didn’t disappoint.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, Devin’s limping, please don’t let this be,’” Meadows said Monday. “But I heard my name and I ran out there.
“It felt good getting my name called, but at the same time, seeing Devin going down, I know I’ve got to step up because I know this means a lot of him, his senior year, all that. So I’m just going out there in his honor, making sure I don’t mess up but playing fast at same time and making some plays.”
Meadows, from Smyrna, Tenn., did just that.
He finished with seven tackles – third among the Herd in the game – while forcing and recovering the same UCF fumble on a strip. He also didn’t forget those special teams duties. Meadows blocked the Knights’ second extra-point try.
“He doesn’t need to hear this from me, but I told Deon I think he did pretty well for his first time,” said starting strongside linebacker D.J. Hunter, who had 10 tackles for MU. “Getting thrown in there right like that when D.A. went down, I told him he did pretty well.
“He was all around the field making plays. I was really proud of him playing like that.”
Meadows has been a third-unit linebacker most of the season and came into the game with six tackles, so he more than doubled his total. He said he didn’t see anything he didn’t expect.
It was how he saw it that was different.
“In practice, we go over what they’re running, but in game, it’s way faster,” Meadows said. “But you see it in practice and it’s like, ‘Yeah, I remember this play,’ so you run through this gap and make the play. It’s a tad bit faster in the game than it is in practice.
“It was tough. We practiced everything they ran, we just didn’t execute. We settled on some stuff and we came out there and played our hardest … You can’t point fingers, that doesn’t help anybody, but we’ve got to come out and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Meadows came to Marshall after turning down an offer from the Herd’s Conference USA foe this week. Memphis (1-7, 1-3) comes to Edwards Stadium for a 2 p.m. kickoff. The linebacker, a top 15 prospect in Tennessee and three-star Rivals linebacker, also had offers from Arkansas, Ohio, Kent State and Western Kentucky and others.
He said he chose Marshall because the Herd “recruited me the hardest,” as he was compiling a 110-tackle senior year at Smyrna High.
He’d been waiting for an opportunity to play for the Herd on defense, but wasn’t thrilled with how it came about – Arrington’s injury – or the fact that it came in a big-game defeat with Conference USA divisional destiny on the line.
“I hadn’t played on defense much, probably about a quarter total,” Meadows said. “It felt great just being back on the field, being able to make plays, being out there with your brothers and stuff, defending something you want.
“I went out there for the coaches, and the coaches, they expect when your number is called, go make a play and that’s what I tried to do, so you’ve always got to be ready. I guess it was my time to shine, so I just got out there and did what I had to do.”
He said Arrington, who had made his defense-leading 32nd career start, helped.
“After he got hurt and I came out (on change of possession), Devin came over and coached me up on things I needed to watch out for,” Meadows said. “Like talking about my position, where I lined up, where I needed to be to make plays, like as a senior he’d have.
“It was mostly like, ‘Don’t overrun things, watch the guard pulls, things we work on all week, but in the game you have a lot to pay attention to, and it was good getting those reminders.”
The opportunity and performance gave Meadows a bounce some of his teammates might have found difficult to find after Saturday’s loss. But Meadows said the Herd as a whole will be fine with the Tigers making a last C-USA trip to Huntington before moving to the Big East.
“Honestly, we all got together and talked,” Meadows said, “and it was like coughing up a loogie, spit it out, a bad game. It’s on to Memphis, and when we got onto the field (for practice Sunday after film work), nobody was down.”
And Holliday has another young defender he can call on “to go make a play.”