Waiters tries to find new niche with Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Raheem Waiters darted onto the field during Wednesday's practice, his fifth day playing linebacker.
Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon had summoned Waiters to take his spot. The ball was snapped and quarterback Rakeem Cato looked to his right, where he found receiver Chris Alston open in the flat.
Waiters reacted and pursued Alston. Just before contact, Waiters seemed to pull up slightly, something that drew the ire of a certain bespectacled assistant coach.
Rippon, who doubles as the Herd's linebackers coach, gripped his green hat with his right hand and spiked it into the turf.
"He'll yell at me, but I'm learning," Waiters said after Wednesday's practice. "He's helping me out. I know that."
Waiters is trying to find his niche with the Marshall football team.
He survived the agonizing wait of being a grayshirt, which means he delayed enrollment for a semester.
Last spring, his first on campus, he played receiver, which is where he starred at Riverside High School. In the fall, the Herd's safety position was depleted and Waiters was shifted to the other side of the ball.
Now the 6-foot-1 athlete is learning the ropes at linebacker.
"It's a whole lot easier playbook so I can move a little faster than when I was at safety," Waiters said. "It's a little bit more closed space and you don't have to cover so much field, which is easier on me."
In anticipation of his move to a new level of the defense, Waiters was told he'd have to pack on weight.
He is still on "weight gain," he said.
"They don't think I'm big enough, so I'm hitting the weight room hard," Waiters said.
He played between 190-195 pounds at safety last season and is currently 205. The coaching staff would like Waiters closer to 215 pounds.
"I'm putting down extra shakes and eating more in the cafeteria," Waiters said, "so it's not too bad."
Rippon has Waiters learning the "SAM" position, which is strongside linebacker. Ironically, he is on the depth chart behind Devin Arrington, another player making the transition from safety to linebacker.
Arrington, like Waiters, has yo-yoed between positions at Marshall.
"I just watch him," Waiters said. "I try to learn from him and translate it to what I need to do."
Waiters is jockeying for position with a plethora of other young linebackers, but he impressed the coaching staff last season on special teams.
"Doc (Holliday) says it all the time, but you're not going to get on the field here without playing on special teams," Rippon said. "You take a guy like (freshman linebacker) Armonze Daniel. He is going to be a very, very, very good player, but Armonze is not going to be a linebacker until he's on a special team.
"It's a rite of passage here and Raheem has already won his part. He's earned his stripes."
Waiters, a rising sophomore, made six tackles in 11 games last season.
After his early gaffe Wednesday, Waiters spotted walk-on running back Kevin Rodriguez trying to bounce to the outside following a handoff. Waiters closed fast and, without hesitation this time, drove Rodriguez into the ground and out of bounds.
Rippon barked words of encouragement and defensive line coach J.C. Price patted Waiters' helmet as he ran back to his new position on defense.
"I love Raheem Waiters," Rippon said. "He had a great offseason. He's an athlete and a competitive guy. Young, inexperienced, was a wideout and we were able to pluck him away last year.
"But where's he going to play? How about linebacker? I tell the kid just go as fast as possible and I'll fix all that technique stuff. He's going to get exposed to a lot of different things, he just has to go play."
* * *
CONFERENCE USA informed Marshall officials Thursday that the Herd's 2012 regular-season finale, at East Carolina, has been moved up one day to Nov. 23 - the Friday after Thanksgiving - for telecast selection.
An ECU official said that an early afternoon kickoff time has been proposed and is likely, because of possible conflicts with North Carolina high school playoffs, but no other details have been confirmed.
Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.