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MCGILL: Hernandez Brings Speed, Energy to Herd Defense

Frankie Hernandez.
Nov. 2, 2016

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Francisco Hernandez – better known at Marshall University as “Frankie” – was on the football field for 56 defensive plays as a redshirt freshman last season.

Hernandez, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound sophomore, surpassed that total in one game last Saturday at Southern Miss. The linebacker from Clearwater, Florida, saw 60 defensive snaps in four quarters – and the results were impressive.

Eight tackles – a career high. One sack – the first of his collegiate career. Two tackles for a loss – a personal single-game best. In fact, the combination of eight tackles, a sack and two TFLs has been accomplished by only two other Marshall players this season: Gary Thompson at North Texas and Chris Jackson against Charlotte.

The reviews from Hernandez’s coaches and teammates are consistent and flattering:

“His motor never stops. He’s always around the ball.” Blake Keller, defensive lineman.

“He can run and he can accelerate. He is one of our fastest players in our program for the first 10 yards. He plays with a really good pad level and he’s really aggressive.” Adam Fuller, associate head coach and linebackers coach.

“He had a little bit of a knee deal there early on in camp and missed just about the entire camp, and he’s just now playing himself back into shape. He was missed.” Doc Holliday, head coach.

Hernandez has been in and out of the lineup this season, but last Saturday was his most significant contribution through eight games. He flashed his speed and made plays behind the line of scrimmage. He was also active pre-snap, motioning and moving and chatting.

“That’s Frankie,” Thompson said. “He watches so much film he actually tries to break down the offense on the field. He tries to help us out.”

Hernandez says he talks so much before the snap because “it messes with the linemen and shows me a clear path to run through.”

That showed on USM’s second drive. Hernandez sacked quarterback Nick Mullens and the Golden Eagles were forced to punt three plays later. Later, Hernandez wrapped up Southern Miss running back Ito Smith for a 3-yard loss on second and 1. That helped lead to a three-and-out victory for the Herd defense.

“I’ve got a knack for the ball,” Hernandez said.

That is what Fuller saw when he started recruiting Hernandez out of Largo High School.

“He was a ball of energy,” Fuller said. “Everything you’re looking for in a linebacker. He has an ability to run and bend, and then he has his energy and passion for the game. He had an edge, some toughness.”

Hernandez sat out the 2014 season and was mostly a special teams player in 2015. He looked up to players like Evan McKelvey and D.J. Hunter, and Hernandez took advantage of the opportunity to make plays this spring. He was the team’s Defensive MVP during spring drills.

“He had a really good spring; a tremendous spring,” Fuller said. “He was probably our most improved defensive player in the spring, and then the game of football has bumpy roads. He got banged up and injured.

“Last week he had his first true full week of practice and he got the most plays he’s played since he’s been here. Now, we’re trying to build on it.”

Hernandez, who wears No. 35, is easy to spot. He has speed, he has the energy and he has the personality. Even when he was injured this season, even when he didn’t see the field, Hernandez was on the sidelines trying to make a difference.

Hernandez showed he was an impact player on the field, too.

“When you’re not playing well, you need some energy,” Fuller said. “We needed that spark.”

Marshall (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) next plays this Saturday (7 p.m.) at Old Dominion (5-3, 3-1 C-USA).