MCGILL: Football Seniors Leave Productive, Fun Legacy
The Word on the Herd -- Nov. 24, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Levi Brown is a sophomore who spends his Saturdays flanked by non-seniors on Marshall’s offensive line.
Follow Brown off the field, though, and you’ll find him surrounded by fourth- and fifth-year football players.
“The vast majority of my friends are seniors this year,” said Brown, who starts at center.
That will make the Thundering Herd’s regular season finale this Saturday (2:30 p.m.) bittersweet for Brown. Marshall (7-4, 4-3 Conference USA) hosts Southern Mississippi (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) for the Herd’s Senior Day.
Before the game, 13 players will be honored for their contributions to the program: A.J. Addison, Rodney Allen, Davon Durant, Hyleck Foster, Eli Gates, Kaleb Harris, Sandley Jean-Felix, Blake Keller, Tony Pittman, C.J. Reavis, Kaare Vedvik, D’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson and Ryan Yurachek. The four-year players in that group have won 33 games and a conference championship, and are headed to a bowl game for the third time.
Perhaps their greatest contributions can be found in a player like Brown, who is not yet to the midpoint of his collegiate playing career but is often mistaken for a senior.
“I’ve always been around the older guys,” Brown said. “When I got here as a true freshman, the dorms really weren’t for me. I moved out and started living off campus to be around the older guys. It made people forget that I was young.”
Brown is a veteran on an offensive unit that sometimes starts as many as five freshmen. Yurachek, a tight end, is the only regular senior starter on that side of the ball. That has placed an immense amount of leadership pressure on the dozen seniors and one junior who will be honored Saturday. Gates, a junior linebacker, is forgoing his final year of eligibility to pursue other opportunities following his graduation is May of 2018.
For Brown, this departing group has taught him about the grind of juggling academics and major college football. He has watched them workout in the offseason, take care of their bodies and represent the school and athletic department in a positive way. He has witnessed their sacrifice and their toughness in the face of adversity. He has watched in admiration at how the group handles scrutiny.
“Fans might see us 12, 13 or 14 weeks,” Brown said. “It’s hard to understand what a student-athlete has invested over the course of their careers. We don’t get to go home and see our families as often as other people. We give up a lot outside of the game just be play football at Marshall. I feel particularly close to this group of seniors because of what we have went through together behind the scenes.”
Behind the scenes – away from the bright lights and crowds – these seniors have relished their time at Marshall, particular because of the people with whom they shared the journey.
Brown recalled an offseason ski trip a couple of years ago. He and a few other players spent five or six hours on the slopes of a West Virginia resort, even though they had little to no experience.
“Our bodies were all beat up because none of us are good skiers,” Brown said. “We were just tumbling down the slopes.”
The lowlight was when Yurachek lost one of his skis as he rode the lift to the top of the mountain. Brown and former Marshall quarterback Michael Birdsong had to traverse the snowy hill to try and retrieve it, and the voyage made for a long and exhausting day.
“He made it a pretty terrible time for all of us,” Brown said with a laugh.
They’ve had a lot of laughs together.
Brown drives his car to the home Yurachek and Keller share on game days. Brown and Keller will take a bottle and kick it up and down the street on their walk to the stadium, stopping only at a convenience store for snacks.
“We just pretend to play soccer,” Brown said. “It’s innocent fun.”
Brown is particularly close to Yurachek and Keller, but he has tight bonds with the rest of the departing class – especially in the offensive line room. Addison, Brown says, has style. Jean-Felix brings a subtle brand of humor to the position room.
And Wilson – who is listed as a defensive back but is known for his special teams prowess – well, Brown says he embodies what is special about the seniors.
They were here for each other, and only wanted to brighten the experience for others.
“Chocolate Wilson is constantly funny,” Brown said. “He is one of the happiest guys alive. He always has fun. He’s there to make everybody happy. If he can tell that you’re down he’s going to go after you, but in a good way. He’s like a big brother. That’s the kind of guy you never forget.
“All of these guys … you don’t forget.”
ABOUT THE SENIORS
A.J. Addison – The 6-foot-6, 299-pound offensive lineman from Ruther Glen, Virginia, played in 41 games and made 11 starts in four seasons at Marshall. He started the final seven games of his sophomore season and made two starts as a junior as a tight end. Addison graduated in May.
Rodney Allen – A 5-11, 190-pound defensive back from Dallas, Texas, Allen made a significant impact in the Herd’s secondary. Allen has started 18 games and made 155 career tackles. He has five interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in his 49-game Marshall career. His Senior Day will be his 50th collegiate game. He graduates in December.
Davon Durant – The 6-2, 242-pound defensive lineman from Greenwood, South Carolina, will go down as one of the strongest players in program history. The junior college transfer entered the Herd program and smashed weight room records, and this year has found his place on the field as a pass rusher. In two seasons, Durant has played in 19 games (one start) and recorded 55 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks. He graduates in May.
Hyleck Foster – The 5-11, 190-pound receiver from Gaffney, South Carolina, has made his impact all over Marshall’s offense and on special teams. He has played in 46 career games (eight starts), while playing running back, wide receiver and returner. He has 1,618 all-purpose yards in four seasons – 753 rushing, 461 receiving, 237 on punt returns and 167 on kickoff returns. He has scored nine career touchdowns (four rushing, five receiving). He graduates in May.
Eli Gates – The 6-4, 205-pound linebacker came to Marshall as a walk-on and the son of former Herd football captain Eric Gates. The younger Gates elevated himself from redshirt freshman and scout team member to scholarship player and significant contributor. He has 15 tackles in 29 career games, making his biggest contributions on special teams. He will graduate in May and exit the program with a year of eligibility remaining in order to pursue other opportunities.
Kaleb Harris – The 6-3, 220-pound linebacker-turned-tight end gave up football after the 2016 season for medical reasons, but he has remained involved with the Herd program. The 22-year-old made a significant impact on special teams during his playing career, and has helped the coaches since his career concluded. The Creston, Ohio, native graduates in December.
Sandley Jean-Felix – The 6-5, 324-pound offensive lineman from Sunrise, Florida, had a productive career at Marshall. He started 19 games, third most among current MU offensive linemen, and has played in 40 games overall. As a sophomore he started all 13 games and played 993 snaps – second on the team. He has started six games the past two seasons, and he already has his degree.
Blake Keller – The 6-2, 245-pound defensive lineman from Bradenton, Florida, has played in 36 games (11 starts) since arriving to Marshall as a transfer. He has been named a game captain six times by the coaching staff in the last two seasons, and enters his final regular season game with 103 career tackles, 12.0 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He will graduate in December.
Tony Pittman – Another weight room warrior, the 5-10, 225-pound native of Hampton, Virginia, has played in 35 games (four starts) in his four-year career. He has 136 career carries for 724 yards and six touchdowns. Three times this season he has been chosen as a game captain by the coaching staff, all on special teams, where he has made his biggest contributions on the field during his senior season. He already has his degree.
C.J. Reavis – A 6-1, 208-pound safety from Chester, Virginia, he leaves after a two-year stint with the program. The junior college transfer made a quick impact with the Herd, playing in 19 games (11 starts) in his two seasons. He has 114 career tackles with 4.5 for a loss, four pass deflections and one fumble recovery. He has his lone interception this season, and tied a career high with 15 tackles last week at UTSA. He graduates in May.
Kaare Vedvik – The Norway native is one of the most versatile specialists in program history, seeing time on kickoffs, punts, field goals and as a holder. He has punted 116 times in his career for a 41.8-yard average, and has booted 148 kickoffs and 9 of 14 field goals this season. He will leave as the record holder for longest punt – a 92-yarder this season that ranked as the seventh-longest punt in Division I history. He will graduate in December.
D’Andre Wilson – The Myrtle Beach, South Carolina native – who goes by the nickname “Chocolate” – is one of the most beloved players on the team because of his positivity and outgoing personality. He has turned into one of the key cogs on special teams. He has played in 26 career games and has nine career tackles and one fumble recovery. He has been recognized as a special teams captain, and he already has his degree.
Ryan Yurachek – One of the most productive tight ends in program history. The 6-3, 239-pound native of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has been named a game captain six times this season. He will play in his 50th collegiate game on Saturday, and has started 32 of them. His career numbers: 129 receptions, 1,238 yards and 22 touchdowns. He ranks No. 3 in program history in touchdowns by a tight end, and enters his final home game with a 40-game streak with at least one reception, the fourth-longest active run in FBS. He graduates in December.