MCGILL: Hancock's Journey from Walk-on to Team MVP is 'Storybook'
The Word on the Herd -- Dec. 12, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Four years ago this month, Chase Hancock had wrapped up his final high school football season as a second team all-state linebacker at Beckley’s Woodrow Wilson High School.
He had nary a major college football scholarship offer, and mulled options at the Division II level. He did, after all, have three brothers, and the affordability of attending college weighed heavily on his decision.
A year later, he became a walk-on at Marshall University. Two years after that, he was awarded a scholarship. That was in January of 2016, and his list of accomplishments has been getting lengthier since.
On Sept. 10, 2016, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker made his first career start. On Dec. 5, 2017, Hancock was named to Conference USA’s all-conference second team. Then, last Saturday, he was named as one of the Thundering Herd’s three team captains for 2017 – the only non-senior – and the Team MVP.
“I started from the bottom and I’ve kind of made my way to the top,” he said Monday as Marshall (7-5) prepares to face Colorado State (7-5) in this Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m., and the bowl will be televised by ESPN
The game will be played at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet, and that coupled with the picturesque views of the desert can take one’s breath away. That might not affect Hancock, who rarely has time to catch his this season.
The redshirt junior is taking 17 credit hours this semester while becoming one of the nation’s leading tacklers (120, No. 14 among FBS defenders). He’ll take 17 hours again next semester while juggling spring football drills and the preparation for his final collegiate season.
He has taken five finals so far this week, and will take another Tuesday before the team heads to Albuquerque on Wednesday morning.
“It’s always been hard,” Hancock said. “It’s been hard since I got here, but that’s what I signed up for. Class, practice, study, test. It’s gotten easier, but not to the point where it is a breeze.
“I used to be stressed all of the time. I’ve learned to adjust my course schedule. It’s all about balancing it, figuring out a way.”
And that, in essence, is why Hancock was the final name called to the stage at the team’s football banquet Saturday night. The coaches handed hardware to all the other names familiar to fans: Ryan Yurachek, Ryan Bee, Levi Brown, Chase Litton, Tyre Brady and Malik Gant, among others. Who would be chosen as the Team MVP?
It wasn’t a decorated recruit. It wasn’t a prospect who arrived with a bunch of stars beside his name. It was a lightly recruited, in-state walk-on.
“I was not expecting to be a team captain and I was not expecting to be defensive anything,” said Hancock, who had a career-high 18 tackles in the regular season finale. “My name may have been on the award, but I feel like it’s (the defense's) award. I wouldn’t have gotten that without my teammates. Anybody could have gotten it, really.
“Everybody does their job. I think it’s a team thing.”
Hancock is correct about the defense being a collective unit. Marshall enters the bowl game ranked No. 17 nationally in scoring defense, No. 19 in rush defense and No. 25 in total defense. Those rankings go from solid to stunning when considering the dearth of seniors on that side of the ball. Defensive ends Blake Keller and Davon Durant, plus defensive backs C.J. Reavis and Rodney Allen, are the only occasional senior starters on the defense. In some games, as few as one senior starts.
At linebacker, the competition is heated. There are no seniors in that room, but juniors Juwon Young, Frankie Hernandez and Artis Johnson join Hancock, sophomore Omari Cobb and others in a battle for time on the field. Hancock is the only linebacker who has started every game this season.
“He’s one of those guys who came here and nobody knew who he was,” said Chuck Heater, Marshall’s defensive coordinator. “He works really hard. Serious guy about life and school and football and goes about it that way. He’s not taking one step forward and two back. He incrementally improves every year.
“Every year he gets better because he’s focused on his job and is serious about it. It’s a great tribute to him. It’s a storybook tale for him.”