Nov. 21, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Happy Thanksgiving! Among those who are really giving thanks in the Marshall football program are two players whose impact on the 2012 Thundering Herd is unquestioned.
In this week’s Herd Insider center spread, there is a great Brad Helton photo of strong safety Dominick LeGrande from last Saturday’s Senior Day. LeGrande is running onto the field as one of those seniors – he’s a graduate transfer, really – carrying rose in hand … with tears in his eyes.
LeGrande and his fellow safety and close buddy, Okechukwu Okoroha, have been the Herd’s top tacklers in their single season since graduating from Boston College. Where would the Herd defense be without them?
What brought the drops from LeGrande’s eyes, however, was his own wondering where he would be had he and Okoroha not found Coach Doc Holliday’s program.
“Really, it’s been a blessing to be here,” LeGrande said Tuesday, with Marshall (5-6, 4-3) preparing for the regular-season finale Friday afternoon at East Carolina (7-4, 6-1), a bowl bid in the balance for the Herd. “That moment was real emotional for me. I was there with the other seniors, getting ready to run out and I started thinking about it.
“My situation, everything that happened, I thought about how things could have come out a lot worse for me. Coming here, ‘O’ and me, it was just a blessing. I got another opportunity to do what I love.”
To say they saved the Herd defense wouldn’t be an overstatement. In an already depleted secondary in preseason, LeGrande and Okoroha provided stability, aggressiveness and veteran know-how.
Neither played in the 2011 season, but they stayed in school and graduated … then sought a final season of eligibility in the same place. This buddy system really worked for the Herd.
“Those guys have been great,” Holliday said. “They play hard, great effort, all the time. They give you everything they have.”
LeGrande and Okoroha have brought the Herd way more than their smiles, which could light up a stadium.
“No way,” the 6-foot-2, 213-pound LeGrande said when asked if he had any idea how well things would turn out for him with the Herd. “I had no idea. None. But they just embraced us, made me and ‘O’ feel comfortable right from the start.
“It was like we had been here for a long time. I didn’t know how the coaching staff, the players would be, whether there’d be a time for everybody to feel one another out, but it didn’t happen that way. Everybody was real cool from the start, real warm to one another.”
For their part, LeGrande and Okoroha didn’t arrive boasting of their time in the ACC, their experience playing before large crowds at Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech on a regular basis.
“We always tried to stay humble,” LeGrande said. “We just wanted to help, because Marshall gave us an opportunity to play again. It’s been special here. It’s gone fast.”
I asked LeGrande what’s been the best part of his six months in the Marshall program, maybe a specific tackle, a certain game. His answer wasn’t what you might expect.
“I’d say our chapel service,” he said. “When we have that, with ‘The Rev, like we just call him (Rev. Steve Harvey), I really love that the most.”
LeGrande ranks seventh nationally (FBS) in tackles and leads Conference USA’s secondary players with 121. He is the nation’s top tackler at any position besides linebacker. Okoroha ranks third on that list, at 104. When they arrived at MU, it was obvious they were very good athletes and football players, but they took time to remark about the Herd’s team speed, which surprised them.
LeGrande has had as many as 16 tackles in a game – he also shares the team lead with two interceptions -- and he dried those Senior Day tears long enough to make 13 hits in last Saturday’s crucial win over Houston to keep the Herd on the road to bowl eligibility.
“The biggest game I played here, I’d say was that one,” said LeGrande, whose family’s home on Staten Island, N.Y., didn’t receive Hurricane Sandy damage some others did so unfortunately, because the LeGrandes don’t live near the shoreline. “That was the best one.
“We were standing right over there (he’s pointing) on that bench, praying when (Justin Haig tried the game-winning field goal). We won. We moved on.
“Before the game, it just hit me. This was my last game here. I just got emotional thinking about it. This week, it might be my last college football game down at ECU. I hope it’s not, we win and go to a bowl, but it might be the last.
“So, this is big, real big. Bigger than last week; biggest of the season. Everything is riding on this game. You don’t want it to end.”
Speaking of big, I wondered what would be the biggest thing LeGrande would remember about his time, his season, at Marshall.
“The coaching staff, the team,” he said. “It’s about how they embraced us and made us feel welcome, and the way they helped us out, bringing us in. Things could have turned out a lot, lot worse. It was a big relief when they took us.
“I’ll always be grateful to Coach Holliday and the staff here.”
Holliday and the staff feel the same about them. The “Dom and O Show” certainly hasn’t been a turkey.