Dec. 18, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – At this holiday time of the year, there’s an emphasis on an adage that good things come in small packages.
However, Marshall’s coaching staff already took the wraps off strong safety Tiquan Lang around midseason.
He’s the only true freshman starter on the Military Bowl-bound Thundering Herd’s offense or defense. And if he’s the 5 feet 9, 171 pounds listed on the roster, then coach Doc Holliday is pushing 6 feet.
“Tiquan’s a really good, young player who started to develop and has come along quickly,” Holliday said. “He just makes plays. Every time he’s out there, he makes plays. He has great ball skills, he’s extremely tough and for a guy who’s only 160 pounds. He’s a big hitter.”
Lang, a native of Port St. Joe in Florida’s panhandle, moved to Valdosta, Ga., in the ninth grade. That southern Peach State area has been very good to the Herd, with the likes of offensive tackle Garrett Scott, middle linebacker Jeremiah Holmes and defensive lineman Jarquez Samuel.
Lang impressively moved into a starting role at midseason, getting the strong safety job over redshirt sophomore D.J. Hunter, who was a Freshman All-America choice at outside linebacker a year ago and one of the Herd’s top hit men.
“It’s competition every day,” Lang said. “I know I’ve got to go to practice, and practice hard because I know D.J.’s behind me. At no time can I take days off, nothing like that. I have to go practice, know my plays, know everything because I’ve got a great player like him behind me.”
Lang played sparingly on defense in the first five games, and then in Game 6 on a chilly Thursday night at Middle Tennessee, he was called on late when Hunter was knocked for a loop making a tackle on what became the Blue Raiders’ drive for a touchdown on the game’s final play.
On a second-and-5 play at the Herd 27, Lang got his mitts on a Logan Kilgore pass near the corner of the end zone…and dropped it. That became Marshall’s only Conference USA loss, a defeat that eventually sent MU on the road to Rice for the league title game.
Lang could have gone the wrong direction after that miscue on his first big opportunity, but just the opposite happened.
“No coaches talked to me about it afterward,” Lang said. “They didn’t have to. I tried to catch it. It was just so cold out there couldn’t feel my fingers. Honestly, I’ve thought about it every day since then, about dropping that pass, how the game could have ended differently.
“But, you know, as a DB, you have to forget stuff like that. You have to go on to the next play.”
When Hunter couldn’t make the next start because of concussion symptoms – at Edwards Stadium against Southern Miss -- Lang got the spot and hasn’t let go.
“My mom and dad were telling me just to know the plays in case anything ever happened, and be patient and I’d get a chance,” Lang said. “When he got hurt, I came in, made a play (a tackle), and coach (defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater) said he was going to give me another chance.
“I came out that first game (Southern Miss) and forced a fumble (and also made six tackles) and that gave me some confidence. Still, that drop at Middle Tennessee, I think about that every day.”
If Lang gets the Military Bowl start on Dec. 27 against Maryland as expected, it will be his seventh start. Among true freshmen on offense and defense in Holliday’s first four seasons, only quarterback Rakeem Cato (nine starts in 2011) and Holmes (eight in 2011) will have more starts as true frosh.
He’s got a grip on things now, but Lang said it wasn’t like that seven week ago.
“I was really nervous for that first start,” Lang said. “I knew I had practiced hard through the week just in case anything like this happened. I knew I had to be game-ready. So, when I got in, I knew what I had to do.
“It wasn’t really a big deal. I just knew great players had to step up for great games, so it wasn’t that big a deal for me, but, yeah, I was nervous.
“It’s been really good, my first season, first time coming in, getting some playing time, and more than I expected -- and now going to a bowl. I’m really blessed to be here and I’m going to do everything I can in the bowl game to get us a win.”
In the first five games when he played primarily as a little-used backup at safety and on special teams, Lang had only three tackles. Now, his numbers include 33 tackles (19 solo), a half tackle for loss, , two pass breakups, a QB hurry, a forced fumble in his first start against Southern Miss and a game-sealing interception at Tulsa with 2:14 left.
“I knew they were going to pass the ball, so anytime I saw (Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans) eyeing the receiver, I was going to break on it,” Lang said of his big pick. “And I broke on that one and he overthrew it and I was there to catch the ball.”
Holliday said that when the Herd signed Lang last February, there was some thought he might be “the best all-around football player we took in the class.
“He didn’t have great size, but he had great skills, even as a high school player, a great feel for the game. He’s kind of one of those guys who is in the right place at the right time all of the time. I hope he keeps making plays for us.”
Lang, who played at Lowndes High in Valdosta had committed to South Alabama in the previous spring, but his final four suitors were the Herd, Temple, Troy and Middle Tennessee.
“He’s got a lot of that football kind of ‘it’ factor,” Heater said of Lang. “He kind of sees things, reacts to things, takes the right angles, has a real awareness. Those are things you can’t coach.
“You can coach everything else, but the guy reacts, feels things, anticipating situations, therefore it allows him to play fast. You can’t coach those things. That’s what got him out there and has kept him out there.”
Asked if Heater had any reservations about Lang after his late drop at Middle Tennessee, the veteran coordinator and secondary coach shook his head.
“Tiquan’s got good ball skills, so my mindset on that is he’d probably catch the next one like that,” Heater said. “He’s got some skills. He’s not very big, and you’ve got to factor that into the equation a little bit at times, but he’s a very good player. He’s played well for us, and he’s a young guy, so we’ve got to keep him coming.”
Lang wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived in Huntington last June. He said what he’s experienced has been eye-opening.
“I had to pick up the pace a lot,” Lang said. “Coming from high school, this level is really different. It’s very fast, and I had to get it down technique-wise. You watch film, listen to Coach Heater, a great coach.
“I know not a lot of freshmen play a lot, and I knew at safety, with D.J. Hunter in front of me, I didn’t figure I’d be out there playing as much as I am now.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned – and Coach Heater has taught me a lot – is you’ve got to be physical. There are no soft men in the sport of football.”