Nov. 9, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The name suggests a little bird, but Brandon Sparrow is anything but that.
“He’s just a big ol’ strong fast kid,” Marshall veteran defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said of Sparrow, the junior nose tackle who plays next to Taylor on the Thundering Herd’s defensive front. “It’s hard to stop a 300-pound guy who doesn’t have a lot of fat.
“Brandon is just the ox that we need in that middle.”
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Sparrow will make his 12th career start when Marshall (4-5, 3-2) travels to Legion Field for Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. (EST) kickoff with UAB (2-7, 1-4). It’s his toughness and consistency that impresses teammates.
Sparrow, of Bedford, Va., played as a true freshman in Coach Doc Holliday’s first Herd season (2010). After playing Group AA football (the middle of three classes) at Liberty high, he found himself on the field for his college debut at the Giant Horseshoe on the Olentangy.
“OK, it’s Ohio State and they tell me to go in, so I go in,” Sparrow said, smiling, earlier this week. “It was like, ‘All right, I’m here now,’ and I’m really trying to stay calm. I’d say it was really different, really different.
“I wouldn’t say it was scary, but it was going from small-town football to the top of the notch in one day.”
Sparrow was a backup to Herd veteran Delvin Johnson then, as he was last season, when Taylor said Sparrow began to emerge into the player he’s become at nose.
“He’s improved 10-fold,” Taylor said of Sparrow. “First of all, it’s his intensity, his motor. He brings intensity, brings passion to the game, and Brandon has really improved on knowing what to do.
“He’s done an excellent job building on his knowledge of how to play the position. He spends a lot of time with Marques (Aiken) and (injured lineman James) Rouse talking about how to play that spot.”
Sparrow ranks sixth on the Herd tackle chart with 43 in nine games. His three sacks lead the team, and he has 6.5 tackles for loss, a half-hit behind rush end Alex Bazzie for the MU lead.
He’s also made the transition of a coaching change, from former line coach Fred Tate (now at Texas Tech) to first-year Herd front boss J.C. Price.
“I think I’m a better player than last year, which is what you want, obviously,” Sparrow said. “Experience helps. They’re different coaches, and I’ve learned a lot from both. I liked them equal, but they’re different.”
Sparrow said when he signed with Holliday’s first recruiting class, he wanted to play as a true freshman “and I got what I was hoping for, but to be honest, I didn’t really expect it. Then it’s Ohio State, and yeah, it was different.”
Sparrow said the drive toward the end of the season is tunnel vision for the Herd.
“It’s about playing for one another,” he said. “The seniors only have a couple of more shots and we need to get them into another bowl game. So, it’s don’t play for yourself, play for the team.
“Up front (on defense), we need to do a better job getting sacks. We’ve done a little better there lately, but we still need more I feel like we’re getting decent penetration, but it seems like every team we play is running ‘quick game,’ a lot of 2-step and 3-step (drops).”
Holliday said Sparrow’s athleticism is his big plus at a position that often isn’t manned by someone who can shed a double-team and still chase down a running back.
“He played as a true freshman, and he probably shouldn’t have played,” the Herd coach said. “He had to because of our numbers. He improved a lot last year and then he had a great offseason, great summer and he’s a player now.
“Brandon is good because he’s very physical, extremely strong and he’s athletic for a big guy. He played basketball in high school. You don’t often find nose tackles who did that.”
Yeah, and Sparrow’s play has been anything but for the birds.