Marshall football: Haig embraces pressure of new role
HUNTINGTON - The phrases "redshirt sophomore" and "wily veteran" aren't ones you'd expect to be connected. When it comes to Marshall's special teams and kicker Justin Haig, they are.
"I'm a young older guy," Haig said with a laugh.
But that means something in the competition to be the Thundering Herd's new kicker and punter.
Haig, who handled Marshall's kickoffs last season, is the only one of the two kickers and two punters with college game experience. Kicker Trent Martin and punter Austin Dumas are redshirt freshmen, players who know what it's like to be on a college campus, but don't know the pressures of a crowded, raucous football stadium. Punter Tyler Williams is a true freshman stepping on to campus for the first time.
And it's not just that they're young players competing for two important starting jobs. It's also about who they're replacing - kicker Tyler Warner and punter Kase Whitehead, established starters the team knew it could depend on.
Warner was a two-year starter who hit 12 of 15 field goals last season, including two in Marshall's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl win. Whitehead was a four-year starter who averaged 40.1 yards a punt his final two seasons.
Martin said the fact of who he's trying to replace stays in the back of his mind.
"It is a lot of pressure," he said, "but I think pressure's good."
Dumas agrees that, for a position that isn't among the most glamorous on the team, it remains a very important one.
"You have a lot riding on you," he said. "It's field position and it's a big part of the game and a big part for us. There's a lot of pressure put on it."
Haig thinks his on-field experience gives him a little advantage, but it's not something he worries about.
He also said it benefits him to have been on the roster at the same time as Warner and Whitehead. He saw firsthand what made them successful and tailored bits and pieces of their games to work for him. For instance, he follows Warner's lead of dynamic stretching. Rather than a normal stretching routine, he uses more running and high knees as a way to save his legs.
Dumas consulted with Whitehead this summer and shortened his punting approach to mirror Whitehead's. He's moved from a three-step approach to a two-step approach, sacrificing a little power for better form and accuracy.
"You learn," Haig said. "You use everyone's tips and strategies and you combine it with the way you kick and do whatever you neeed to do to better yourself.
Williams doesn't have that luxury as a true freshman, but it hasn't seemed to faze him. He's been turning heads in practice with some booming punts.
He simply credits his practice repetitions and the opportunity to work with the rest of the punt team.
"It's a lot of things," Williams said. "Everything's just going good. My blockers are good. My shields are blocking for me. Everything's just in sync, which gives me more confidence to kick the ball."
While the competition is fierce, Dumas said it hasn't affected their off-field relationship.
"It wouldn't be that way if it wasn't just a bunch of great guys," he said. "Trent and Haig and Tyler are all the nicest guys in the world. We all get along. We hang out together. It's one of those things where it's let the best man win."
As far as the acts the four are trying to follow, they acknowledge the history is there, but they don't want to be consumed by the shadows of their predecessors.
"You always hear the expression, 'You have to fill their shoes,' " Martin said. "But you have to fill your own shoes and do your best."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.