Dec. 19, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Just perhaps -- if Marshall can win the Military Bowl over Maryland – then Dec. 27 will measure up to an earlier 2013 date in Chris Jasperse’s personal file folder.
It probably will take one memorable performance by Thundering Herd football against the Terrapins (7-5) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, however.
On Sunday (Dec. 15) afternoon, Jasperse graduated from MU with a bachelor’s degree in sports management and marketing. The redshirt junior center from Greensboro, N.C., then headed to the Herd’s 2013 football banquet.
There, he not only learned he’d been voted one of Marshall’s five season captains by his teammates, but he also took home the Jim “Buck” Conard Award, which goes to the team’s best lineman and honors the MU player of the mid-‘50s.
“That’s huge,” Jasperse said of his graduation in 3 1/2 years with a 3.08 grade point average. “My whole family came in, I maybe had 15-20 people there, and just to get to do that and see all them there, with all of the support they’ve given me over the years … it was special.
‘To finish my college degree was just huge, now I get to go to grad school and work on my master’s. It’s just so exciting to get to do that.”
Five days earlier, the 6-foot-4, 289-pound Jasperse had learned he was voted the All-Conference USA first team center. He had been a C-USA All-Freshman pick in 2011.
He will be pursuing a master’s in sports administration when the new semester begins in January, then will return in 2014 for his final football season. His goal is to become a coach.
So, did the banquet festivities, heaped on top of graduation, make it one of the best days of his life?
“Absolutely,” Jasperse said with a grin. “It was one of the best days of my life. I was glad my family was able to be at both of them with me. Like is said, it’s nothing if you can’t share it with anybody, and to have my family there for all of that, it was great.”
Jasperse came to the Herd program as a 2010 walk-on with coach Doc Holliday’s first team. By the end of the 2011 season, he had already made 13 starts – every game. It’s a streak – 38 straight starts – that Jasperse will take into the Military Bowl for the 9-4 Herd.
He has a chance at a Marshall record, of sorts.
Guard Aaron Ferguson owns the Herd record for career starts by an offensive lineman – 57 from 1993-96. During those big NCAA Division I-AA years, however, Marshall played 15 games, giving players more opportunities.
Since the Herd moved back to major college football in 1997, the record for O-line starts is 52, shared by Steve Sciullo (1999-2002) and Nate McPeek (2000-03).
If Jasperse starts in the Military Bowl and then Marshall can get into the Conference USA title game and a bowl again in 2014 – and he starts every game – Jasperse will break the Sciullo/McPeak number, with 53 starts.
That’s then; the Military Bowl is now.
“This is the season,” Jasperse said of the postseason date. “This is why we play the game, to get big-time opportunities against a team like this, playing in a great facility at the Naval Academy … You couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s an awesome opportunity.
“Everybody wants us to play big-time teams, well, now we get to play a big-time ACC team. They’ve been to a lot of bowls, and they’re going to the Big Ten. We’re playing in a great place, Annapolis. I hope our people come out and watch us play a great game.”
Jasperse was selected by coaches as a game captain in eight of 13 games this season. He has played an offensive line-leading 985 snaps, and he’s 98 percent on assignments and an 86-percent success rate. His 75 knockdowns are 20 more than No. 2 in that statistic, senior left tackle Garrett Scott.
He’s also only allowed one sack. So, what’s Jasperse been doing among his semester finals, his graduation and the big banquet before the Herd resumed pre-bowl practice this week?
“I’ve really been working on us in the last week, been focusing on me, how I can improve my game,” the veteran Herd center said. “I watched film, just looked at my feet, or if I missed a block, or didn’t do what I wanted to do … kind of self-scouting myself.
“If you knew it was this move, why did you do that? Just try to work on that stuff to try and improve my game.”
And while Holliday has been thrilled with the opportunity to have an additional week of practice before the C-USA title game and now more drills before a bowl date, Jasperse looked at the time off between those workouts as beneficial.
“This is huge,” he said. “I get to recover a little bit. I’ve played 14 games in what, 19 weeks, if you count everything up, and we’ve been going at it for a long time, practicing since August, and now we’ve gotten a week and a half off, not going full bore … It’s been a good thing for us, to get healthy and move forward.”
Since midseason, first-year Herd offensive line coach Alex Mirabal has honed in on his five starting linemen, only substituting late in fourth quarters when Marshall was winning comfortably, or adding personnel when the Herd was using its tackle-strong “Cheese” (short-yardage) package.
Jasperse -- flanked by guards Alex Schooler and Sebastian Johansson and tackles Scott and Clint Van Horn – has sat for only 15 snaps in the last seven games.
He’s also part of a front that shares in two season-best statistics among all 125 FBS teams.
The Herd’s 12.6 yards per play total offense in its 56-14 romp past UAB is the best this season, entering the bowls, by 1 full average yard. Marshall’s 11.91 yards per rush in that same game edged the 11.88 by Auburn against Western Carolina for the best this season. Both those performances are Conference USA records (dating to the league’s start in 1996).
MU also had the No. 4 average yards per rush game of the season (11.3 versus Southern Miss) and the No. 8 total offense average per play (9.94) against the Golden Eagles.
So, facing a Maryland defense that ranks right with the Herd in tackles for loss (both teams have 95) and is a bit better than Marshall on third-down conversion defense (33.7 percent to 34.9), what does that front five need to do.
“I think we’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Jasperse said. “Communicate and ‘Five men; one mind’ …some of our sayings … ‘Dominate and discourage’ on every play. ‘Fit, fight and finish.
“That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve got five tough guys up front. We need to get really nasty and get after it. That’s what we pride ourselves on, getting after it.”
Jasperse said the Herd isn’t concerned about playing the Military Bowl in the Terps’ virtual backyard. He said the nine Marshall players from the “Maryland, D.C., Virginia areas are ready to go home and get after it.”
He also pointed to the return of redshirt senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor from a fracture in his back after being sidelined since mid-September – for his final game – as a bowl inspiration.
“That’s huge,” Jasperse said, admiringly. “Everything he’s done for this program, he gets one more chance to get out there. And everybody thought his career was over.
“That’s just a tribute to him. It’s like James Rouse (starting defensive tackle who missed almost two full seasons, and was voted the 2013 Herd MVP by teammates Sunday). He came back, and now JT is coming back.
“It just shows you what kind of guys we have on this team, a bunch of tough guys who don’t quit, never give up. It’s just a tribute to everybody on this team.”