Nov. 7, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Evan McKelvey’s big brother has the kind of ring he’d like to get one day, but McKelvey hopes to get the kind of ring that big brother can’t possibly get anymore.
The Marshall redshirt sophomore linebacker has briefly worn the Super Bowl championship ring his brother – former Herd safety Omar Brown – won in February as a rookie member of the Baltimore Ravens.
Having moved on from college football, however, Brown won’t have the Conference USA championship game ring that McKelvey and his teammates hope is down the road for the Herd (5-3, 3-1), which faces UAB (2-6, 1-3) at noon Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
“I tell him all the time I’m going to outdo him in everything here,” McKelvey said, laughing, earlier this week of the back-and-forth between the brothers from Moncks Corner, S.C. “I tell him all the time they remember him now, but I tell Omar when I’m done here, they’re not going to remember his name anymore.”
It’s the kind of play that McKelvey has been delivering at the weakside linebacker spot that could lift the Herd to the C-USA title game and bowl trip that it so desires.
McKelvey, if undersized for his position, has been delivering big plays. He ranks third on the Herd with 44 tackles, half of those solos. In the loss at Middle Tennessee, McKelvey had 12 tackles, 10 of those first hits.
As for Brown, the second-year NFL safety was activated last week by Baltimore from its practice squad.
“I tell him, I’m faster than him,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound McKelvey – a former Herd safety – said of Brown. “When I’m in the weight room, I ask, ‘What did Omar bench? What did Omar jump? What did Omar run?’
“I always try to top that. And the one thing I haven’t topped yet is his vertical jump and his broad jump. Everything else, I’ve passed him … Even in high school thought he was better than me, but then I broke a couple of his records.”
Brown, who is 5-11, 195, long jumped 10 feet 8 at Marshall, one of the top five numbers in Herd history for his “skill position” category that includes running backs, wideouts, corners and safeties. McKelvey’s broad jump this summer was 10-2 1/2. Brown also has a few inches on McKelvey’s 34 1/2-inch vertical.
The Herd linebacker’s game is strength. His power clean of 315 ranks second all-time among linebackers, tight ends and fullbacks in MU history, behind teammate Neville Hewitt by 5 pounds.
McKelvey’s strength index (bench, squat, clean total, divided by body weight) of 5.70 is fifth on the team and best among “power” positions.
McKelvey’s wish – besides one of those rings, of course, is to get bigger.
“I remember I was 215 one time like during a summer, and I haven’t been up there since,” McKelvey said. “The reason I say that, not that I can’t probably be one of the stronger guys, besides (middle linebacker) Jermaine Holmes, one of the strongest LB.
“I may be small but I’m actually stronger than I look, so I can play the position, but it takes a toll on your body, after the game … wearing you down in the fourth quarter and stuff. And some people don’t think weight is a big difference, but it is a big difference when you’re hitting a big guy all the time.
“If you’re not big, you have to have some kind of upside to you. You can’t just be small and not have any athletic ability. It helps you being stronger if you’re small. People at practice, they didn’t know me until I actually showed them that I’m small but you can’t block me. I go against (offensive) linemen and I don’t move.”
McKelvey was switched to linebacker from safety last preseason, then in a Week 3 loss to Ohio, tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and missed the rest of the season.
He underwent surgery and missed spring practice, finally getting back on the field for August camp. He said it took him until the loss to the Bobcats this season to really feel good again.
“The first two games it was like I was just kind of getting warmed up,” he said. “The third game, at Ohio, I was getting into it. That (Week 4) Virginia Tech game, that was it. I said I’ve got to do a lot better. I can’t use my knee as an excuse anymore, you know? I have to play better.”
He has … with 26 tackles in the last four games, and the Herd splitting time among Holmes, Hewitt, McKelvey and Stefan Houston at linebacker.
Sitting out last season after the ACL repair had its pluses and minuses – and frustration – for McKelvey.
“It makes you want it more,’ he said. “It makes you want to play more … You know how it feels not being able to play, so you play every down like it’s your last play because you never know when it’s going to be your last play. You never know when you might hurt something, might tear something … you never know.”
McKelvey’s strength and speed provide a combination that helps the Herd. In some ways, he’s a safety masquerading as a linebacker … which is what strong safety teammate D.J. Hunter did last season before returning to the back line of the MU defense in 2013.
McKelvey praised Herd first-year linebackers coach Adam Fuller for helping him develop into a different kind of player.
“He makes the game a lot easier, more simple,” McKelvey said. “And when you’re able to play and not think all of the time about what you’re doing, then you become a great player. So, all those people who have … I got to do this, I’ve got to do this … Now we’re just flying around; it’s reaction.”
McKelvey’s versatility – and smaller size -- allows Fuller to play some combinations at ‘backer that the Herd might not otherwise find possible, too.
“Being able to cover slot receivers,” McKelvey answered when asked the advantage he has in moving from safety to will linebacker. “Coach Fuller wouldn’t run two-man (at LB) a lot if we didn’t have a coverage guy, and he knows I can cover anybody in the slot.
“Sometimes I line up on a slot receiver, sometimes, when they go empty, I’ve got to line up on a guy on the outside, so I’m a cover guy. I can cover and I can also play in the box.
“The thing that helped me was (Hunter) gave me some info on stuff that’s happening down inside the box. But when it comes to knowing the position, it’s more of if you’re not in there, you don’t know. Hearing it from somebody is one thing, but actually being in there is a whole different thing.”
McKelvey and his teammates are one win from getting a bowl ring after the season, but he is shooting for a bigger bauble as he chases a C-USA title game trip and Omar’s history with and after the Herd.
“I still have a lot to prove,” McKelvey said. “I need to make up for a lot in experience. I think I’m getting better game-after-game, and I’m more comfortable and know more of what I’m doing. I think there’s improvement there, but I’m still learning.
“There’s a lot I can do at my position. I still have time. I have time to get bigger, too.”