BOGACZYK: Reaves’ Value to Herd Deeper than His Returns
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 29, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – With a pre-bowl intermission to Marshall’s football season, it’s a good time to take stock of a 9-3 year that’s been pockmarked and patch-worked by injuries and more.
The Herd’s 49-28 loss at Western Kentucky last Friday in what became a one-sided battle for the Conference USA East Division title did offer more evidence of something I’ve been thinking for a few weeks now.
OK, I don’t have a ballot on this, but the Most Valuable Player on Coach Doc Holliday’s sixth Marshall team is a redshirt senior who back during August camp was considered just a specialist.
And, boy, has Deandre Reaves been extra special.
Here’s a fleet guy from Sterling, Va., who has bounced around the Herd positional depth chart – outside receiver, running back, cornerback, slot receiver – known mostly for his great work with dreadlocks flying from the back of his helmet on kick returns.
Reaves, 23, has contributed much more. Pretty much a third-team slot man in camp, he worked his way into a starting role in the last 10 games … and his 47 receptions (for 617 yards and four touchdowns) rank second to Davonte Allen’s 56 catches. Reaves had only eight receptions from 2012-14.
He also added punt return responsibilities to his duties, replacing Hyleck Foster there when the sophomore struggled with his ball-handling. Reaves has averaged 13.7 yards on 13 returns, including a 69-yarder to score against FIU.
And if Reaves were superb in previous seasons on kick return duties – and he took the Herd’s career yardage record away from Ray Crisp Jr.’s 1,966 yards in a loss at Ohio in Week 2 – then you need another compelling adjective to describe his 2015 season of runbacks.
In the second quarter at WKU, with the Herd hurting and down three touchdowns, Reaves burst for a 97-yard kick return score – his second this season and third of his career.
“It felt great,” said Reaves, who also caught two passes for 45 yards. “We needed something. We were down at that point – 21-0, I think it was -- so we needed some juice and we think highly of our special teams, I guess you’d say. We needed a spark, needed something and that touchdown did it.
“Absolutely … once we got a little juice we were going to open up our playbook, which we did, but we got down, and we started hanging our heads a little bit and so we tried to keep everybody on course and make something happen.”
Well, he did. He had 221 yards on six returns of WKU kickoffs, and the yardage figure is a Marshall single-game record.
Reaves was the Herd’s singular highlight in the stinging defeat, and he’ll take 2,525 kick return yards into his final career game – wherever Marshall heads for a bowl in a third straight season and fourth in five years.
He had a 93-yard kick runback for a TD against Northern Illinois in last season’s Boca Raton Bowl, then another 93-yarder this season in a double-overtime victory at Kent State. Heading to the Herd bowl, Reaves ranks seventh in kick return yardage in C-USA history, and his 27.7-yard career average is No. 3.
With two kick return TDs in 2015, Reaves is the first Herd player with multiple KR scores in one season since College FB Hall of Famer Troy Brown had three in 1991. Reaves’ 97-yarder at Western Kentucky tied for the third-longest in Marshall history (100 by Ray Crisp at Akron in 1977; 100 by Troy Evans at Southern Miss in 2010).
The only other player in MU annals with two kick return TDs is Dick Hunter, who had the other two 97-yarders – in 1936 against Cincinnati and Ohio Wesleyan. Brown’s three in 1991 were against Furman (94 yards), UT-Chattanooga (91 yards) and East Tennessee State (89 yards).
Only two Marshall players have had more booted return runbacks for scores – five apiece by Brown (three kicks, two punts in 1991 and ’92) and Tim Martin (five punts from 1993-96).
Reaves’ 221 kick return yards for the school record topped the 208 by Darius Marshall in a Sept. 27, 2008 loss at West Virginia. It also is the high in a C-USA game this season. His 221 yards rank third in a game in Conference USA history. The top two were 269 yards by Army’s Scott Wesley against Tulane on seven returns in 2004, and 261 on seven trips by Rice’s Charles Ross, also against Tulane, in 2010.
And with his next kickoff runback, Reaves also will tie Crisp’s 1975-78 Marshall career mark for kick returns, with 92.
“It is,” Reaves responded when asked about ranking with a Hall of Famer like Brown in the Herd books. “But I don’t think about individual stats. As long as the team is doing well, that’s all I really care about.” There’s no way anyone --- prior to the season -- could have figured the 2015 impact of Reaves on this Herd team in so many ways.
A month ago, I talked to Reaves about his final season, one that has gotten more special game-after-game.
“I can stand here and say, you know I always thought (he had reached the point where he could play on more than special teams),” said Reaves, who also has been a stand-up guy in Herd interview sessions. “When I stepped into college, it was my dream to play college football. So, OK, I’m ready, but you think you are, or you aren’t.
“That’s always going to be a thought process. You love to play football and that’s why we came here, to get an education and play football. I always felt that I was ready, but I just had to get my chance and when the chance was given to me, that’s when I showed I was ready.”
He wanted to be special on more than special teams – which he has played for four seasons – and he has been. But then there’s that other thing Reaves mentioned … about why he came to Marshall.
He arrived and sat out the 2011 season to begin squaring his academics away. This summer, besides emerging in August camp, he earned his undergraduate degree in marketing. So, he will go through graduation on Dec. 12, prior to that pending bowl trip.
After WKU had clinched the host role for the C-USA Championship Game, Reaves was asked if he had grasped he’d never play another game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“Not yet,” he said. “I mean, we still practice there. I know it’s kind of different, but it will probably hit me when I walk across the (graduation) stage to leave Marshall, so …”
It’s going to hit Herd football, too, because Reaves has provided more than many happy returns.