MU football: Former South Charleston star earns scholarship
HUNTINGTON - Blake Brooks is a Marshall walk-on no longer.
He's still a defensive lineman for the Thundering Herd, but he's a newly-minted scholarship player. Brooks, a South Charleston High graduate, said on his Twitter feed that he was given the scholarship Wednesday.
"I'm feeling so blessed today," Brooks wrote on his Twitter feed. "I (just) wanna say thanks to my team and coaches. (Thank) you Coach (Doc) Holliday for putting me on scholarship today."
Brooks, a 6-foot-1, 305-pound redshirt sophomore, won the 2009 Hunt Award, given to West Virginia's top high school lineman. When no major Division I scholarship offers came around, he decided to take a partial scholarship with Division II Fairmont State. Yet he switched gears and walked on to the Herd in 2010.
Brooks' high school coach John Messinger said he'd always considered Brooks a Division I football player, and talked about his devotion to getting in better shape since coming to Huntington.
"Blake has great character," Messinger said. "Go up to South Charleston and ask any teacher he had. I have teachers coming up to me every day asking me, 'How's Blake?' They loved him and he's just kind of kid warmed up to immediately."
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Grady Kerr, from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., also earned a scholarship.
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No member of the Marshall football team knows this current series with West Virginia University better than sixth-year guard John Bruhin. When he takes the field at Milan Puskar Stadium for Saturday's game (noon, FX), he'll have experienced all seven games of the series, be it as a spectator or a participant.
"It's really just down to the core of people in Huntington," he said. "They love this town and everything they've been through with the plane crash and all that, a lot of people don't realize that. But that really brings a lot to this community. It means a lot.
"I try to explain it to people the best I can," Bruhin continued, "but nobody is ever really going to realize it until they've actually lived it."
Bruhin is one man who can say he's lived it. He watched the first game in 2006 from home in Powell, Tenn., as his older brother, the late Zane Bruhin, suited up for the Thundering Herd. Then the younger Bruhin arrived in Huntington in 2007, watching the game from the sidelines during his redshirt year.
He was a reserve lineman for the 2008 game, but spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons again as a spectator, missing both because of injury. He actually watched the 2010 game from a hospital bed with stitches in his back. But he started at right guard for the 2011 game and will do so again Saturday.
Bruhin's final game of the series could be the overall final game for this series, at least for a while. It saddens him that this could be the end, especially because of how much he's enjoyed being a part of it.
"I think more than anything, at least for the fans, they should try to work out something," he said. "There are tons of memories. Every time we play these guys, I have a blast. Just to be in a huge rivalry game, if you're a competitor at heart at any level, you're going to love being out there."
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MARSHALL RUNNING BACK Zach Wellman has the support of his family behind him, even if his younger brother will soon be wearing a West Virginia jersey.
Elijah Wellman, a Spring Valley High School senior fullback, verbally committed to WVU in June. Zach Wellman, a redshirt sophomore, said there hasn't been much ribbing going on between the two brothers. In fact, they don't talk about football much.
"We're the kind of guys that go places and talk about what's on our mind," he said. "We're really close, so we don't have to talk about football to bond."
Their parents aren't feeling the anxiety of a house divided either, Zach Wellman said. They're just happy two sons will be playing Division I college football. While they probably won't wear half Marshall-half WVU jerseys, Wellman said they'll celebrate the connection another way.
"Dad's into making cornhole boards," he said with a laugh. "He's making a cornhole board set with one West Virginia and the other Marshall."
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MARSHALL DID an okay job against West Virginia on first and second downs last season. It was third downs, however, where problems arose.
The Mountaineers converted seven of 14 third downs in last season's 34-13 WVU win, including five of six in the second quarter, where they scored 17 points. Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said WVU quarterback Geno Smith's mobility was the main culprit.
"At times Geno hurt us when he rolled out of the pocket, broke containment and ran a little bit," Holliday said. "Hopefully this year we will be more athletic on that second level and be able to track him down and get him on the ground. We had trouble with that a year ago and we have to get off the field on third downs."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.