Marshall football: Waiters just wants to play, help team
HUNTINGTON -- Above everything else, whatever position he may hold or role he may take, Raheem Waiters considers himself a football player. And "play" is the operative word.
Whether he's a wide receiver, a free safety or a linebacker - and he's played all three at Marshall - he just wants to see the field. And now, in his new role as a strong-side linebacker, he's getting that chance. In fact, there's a chance the sophomore could earn a spot in the starting lineup.
"He'll play," Marshall defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Chris Rippon said. "If he's not the starter, you'll see him play, no question. He's too athletic."
Waiters feels that athleticism allowed him to make the transition from wideout to the secondary to linebacker. At 6 feet and 207 pounds, he's not as heavy as a prototypical strong-side linebacker, but his speed and agility make up for it.
"Being a linebacker with the speed I have is a great help," he said. "I can set the edge, I can get out in coverage and guard men."
Waiters' journey up, down and around the depth chart was a twisty one. He was a 188-pound wide receiver at Riverside High, and considered the No. 3 prospect in West Virginia by Rivals.com as a senior in 2009. But he tore his anterior cruciate ligament during that season, which led to a grayshirt and an arrival in Huntington in the spring of 2011.
He began his Thundering Herd career at receiver, but broke his hand and was moved to free safety. That didn't bother him, since he played free safety in high school. But he didn't see a ton of playing time as a freshman, recording six tackles mostly on special teams.
Yet as he played safety, Rippon saw things that made him think moving to linebacker would work.
"He was a more reactive player," Rippon said. "He developed in special teams last season. What I realized was he wasn't afraid, he had excellent speed and has a good football mind. He's too good of an athlete to not find a place on the field. Let's try him at outside linebacker. He's just taken off."
Waiters said it didn't take much convincing to move him.
"I'm not a really reluctant guy," he said. "I just wanted to be somewhere where I could get some playing time, to be able to fit in on the defense and help them out and actually get to play."
When he moved to linebacker, he found a lot of aspects he enjoyed. He likes having a more specific role. Rather than scanning the entire field as a free safety, he locks down on the flats and the curls. Waiters said he's benefited from stepping into a more specialized role.
"When you're a free safety, you have to watch the whole field and pretty much be the eraser," he said.
"At 'Sam,' I'm responsible for a few exact things and just have to be pin-point on that."
Mostly, Waiters simply is happy to move into a prominent role. He's had to be patient - waiting the extra semester to join the Herd, hopscotching around the lineup from offense to defense and biding his time on special teams - but that patience has paid off.
MU Coach Doc Holliday said Waiters' trust in his coaches to find the right spot for him and willingness to learn new roles has made him an important part of the team in a short time.
"He's just a great kid with great intangibles who's worked extremely hard and wants to play," Holliday said. "Whatever we ask him to do, he's done, and it shows.
"He's a tremendous athlete," he added. "He was a tremendous athlete in high school. He's just bought in to what we're doing and he's going to do whatever he can to help this team win."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.