Marshall football: Herd cornerback Baxter not shy about contact
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Keith Baxter didn't care much about that blue no-contact jersey he has sported during spring football drills.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore cornerback pursued wide receiver Demetrius Evans in Marshall's intrasquad scrimmage Friday at Edwards Stadium. Evans was running from right to left in the end zone as the ball came toward him.
Just as Evans put his hands on the ball, he was hit from behind. It was Baxter, and the two players and the ball fell to the ground.
"Contact isn't a problem for me," said Baxter, who had surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. "I'm back to lifting weights now and I'm getting stronger."
His performance - and elevated standing on the Herd's depth chart - support that claim.
A ballyhooed arrival last summer, Baxter played in six games and made four tackles as a true freshman in 2011. He admittedly struggled with the transition from Homestead (Fla.) High School football star to Marshall University student-athlete.
"Last year was hard because when I came in, you know, everybody expected me to come in and play right away," Baxter said. "I had to learn a lot and Coach Holliday and the other coaches made it clear I wasn't showing I was ready for it."
Baxter, a 3-star prep football prospect who took official visits to Syracuse and New Mexico, skipped a redshirt but struggled to crack the two-deep. But, this spring he has seen more repetitions with the first until opposite rising junior Darryl Roberts.
"That means a lot because I worked really hard to run with the ones," Baxter said. "I'm used to being out there and competing with guys on my level."
First-year cornerbacks coach Lytrell Pollard urged patience with the talented sophomore.
"People forget he's a young pup," Pollard said. "He's just got to relax. The thing with playing corner is he's so aggressive and sometimes that aggression hurts him."
That mentality, however, is what led Baxter to the defensive side of the ball.
His father, also Keith Baxter, is a well-known name to the Marshall faithful. The elder Baxter starred at receiver from 1984-87 and caught passes from Herd quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen.
When Petersen was recruiting Baxter, he brought tapes of the former Herd QB and receiver.
Baxter may have followed in his father's footsteps by coming to Marshall, but he is carving his own niche at another position.
"I ain't a receiver," Baxter said. "I like to be aggressive and hit people and get in the receiver's face."
The cornerback position is deep, with Roberts (nine starts in 2011; 14 in career) and junior Monterius Lovett (seven starts last season; 17 in career) back.
Redshirt freshman Corie Wilson is another cornerback with high expectations, but he was arrested Sunday morning and charged with obstructing an officer and fleeing on foot, both misdemeanors.
This summer, another highly touted cornerback, A.J. Leggett, is expected to arrive.
He was a 4-star prospect out of South Miami High School and took official visits to Florida State, Nebraska and Marshall before settling on the Herd.
Baxter acknowledged he has thought about starting opposite his childhood friend.
"I plan on being a starter for the season opener," Baxter said. "Maybe me and Leggett, we'll see. I think we'll do big things.
"We grew up in the same neighborhood and we played in the same Pop Warner leagues, so there's a connection.
"I just have to keep growing and making strides. I'm not a freshman anymore, so I have to step my game up."
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THE ANNUAL Big Green Banquet is scheduled for Friday at Marshall's on-campus Student Recreation Center.
National Football League players Ahmad Bradshaw, Daniel Baldridge, Chris Crocker, Byron Leftwich, Doug Legursky and Chris Massey are scheduled to attend the event.
Chad Pennington will host the 34th annual Big Green Banquet, touted as "An Evening with the Pros."
Tickets are $80 and can be purchased through the Big Green office by calling 304-696-4661. The banquet starts at 7 p.m.
The event is the night before Marshall's Green-White spring football game, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday.
Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.