Marshall football: Herd transfers look for roles in secondary
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha could have swaggered onto Marshall University's campus and into Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Not the normal swagger football players need to ply their trade, but an arrogance that could come with three years at Boston College and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
They could have looked down their noses at the competition in Conference USA and scoffed at its "non-automatic qualifier" status with the Bowl Championship Series. But after a summer of workouts and the first few days of preseason camp, the duo can see the athletic talent the conference - and their new team - features.
"When Coach Doc (Holliday) recruited us, he told us straight up that he was going to surround us with great competition, great guys that are athletic," Okoroha said. "He never lied about that."
LeGrande and Okoroha now are trying to find their place in the Marshall secondary, a unit that will value their experience and expertise, and add a dash of senior leadership to a youngster-laden Thundering Herd team.
The two transfers are thankful not only for Holliday giving them the opportunity to play, but also giving them the opportunity to keep playing together. LeGrande and Okoroha entered Boston College at the same time and have been roommates ever since.
"I love having him here," Okoroha said of LeGrande. "He's my best friend. And when they told us they wanted both of us, it was just God working."
Okoroha had been dismissed from Boston College in August 2011 for disciplinary reasons, and LeGrande left on his own accord shortly afterward. The two spent a year away from football, graduated from BC and are at Marshall as graduate students.
Holliday said he can't see past their joy in being on the field to notice any rust.
"I think they're just excited about playing," Holliday said. "They've got an opportunity to go play and have a chance to be a part of something special and they have a future, so they're taking advantage of it. They're just tickled and happy to be here."
And the Herd is happy to have them.
LeGrande said the summer was essential in helping the two learn about their new teammates and the team's culture. He felt a strong bond develop even before preseason camp began.
"I thought it would be a lot harder, but when you come in, you just ease your way in, you talk to the coaches, you feel them out and they're feeling you out," he said. "Everything just works out slowly, day by day."
LeGrande and Okoroha learned one thing quickly - their teammates are fast. They didn't face any passing-game slouches in the ACC. Among the conference's 2010 quarterbacks were current NFL players T.J. Yates, Russell Wilson and Christian Ponder. Its 2010 wideouts included current NFL-ers Leonard Hankerson, Torrey Smith and Travis Benjamin.
But the two former Eagles now line up in practice against an offense that includes receiver Aaron Dobson and quarterback Rakeem Cato. Okoroha said their new team's athleticism trumps their old team's.
"There are more athletes here than I was around at Boston College," he said. "The receivers, the speed, they have more speed here and guys are willing to work. You come in and have to play up to their speed. That was one of our big things to work on, to play up to speed. That was actually an upgrade, the athletes here."
Defensive coordinator Chris Rippon hopes the duo's experience will help them mentor the young players that fill Marshall's roster. LeGrande and Okoroha's arrival now gives the Herd eight seniors, the second smallest total in college football behind Indiana's seven.
LeGrande, standing 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, and Okoroha, standing 6-1 and 210 pounds, both played 12 games in 2010. Okoroha started BC's last six 2010 games at free safety, with LeGrande as the team's No. 2 strong safety. They recorded 27 tackles each, and both were expected to start in 2011.
Their presence in Huntington allowed the defense to move personnel into more natural positions. Senior Devin Arrington could move from safety to linebacker and redshirt freshman Armonze Daniel could move from linebacker to defensive line.
As pass-happy as Conference USA can get, Rippon welcomed the chance to make those changes.
"We've got to match up in Conference NBA," he said. "(Last year) we were playing four fifth-year quarterbacks. It was an amazing kind of perfect storm. But we knew we had to catch up. I think we're a step closer to being able to run with the people we have to run with."
Holliday said he liked how LeGrande and Okoroha kept their mouths shut and did their talking with their play on the practice field. It's earned their teammates respect. Okoroha hopes it earns the duo plenty of playing time. Conference USA featured five top-50 offenses last year, and the two relish the opportunity to face them.
"That's what me and Dom talk about all the time," Okoroha said. "They're going to throw the ball about 50 times, it's going to end up in our hands a few of them. We just have to be there to make the play."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.