Marshall football: Mitchell, Smith finally ready to play
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - At every Marshall football home game, defensive lineman Ken Smith and linebacker Billy Mitchell patrolled the sideline, but without a helmet and shoulder pads. Smith's recovery from back surgery and Mitchell's recovery from a concussion left them as spectators rather than participants.
But at each game, they'd talk. They'd tell each other to remain patient, that their return to the field finally would come. This week, the two are feeling the crack of their pads against their teammates' during practice, something they've coveted since the season began. And they're ready to return to action at Southern Mississippi (0-6, 0-2 Conference USA) at 7 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
"It's awesome," said the 6-foot-3, 238 pound Mitchell, a redshirt junior. "Being out here with my guys, there's nothing like it."
Mitchell's game experience - he played all 13 games last season, starting one - is a welcome addition to the Thundering Herd linebacker corps. Of the six linebackers listed in Marshall's two-deep, only fifth-year senior Devin Arrington and redshirt junior Derek Mitchell are past their sophomore year. And two outside linebackers, redshirt freshman D.J. Hunter and sophomore Raheem Waiters, are converted defensive backs.
Billy Mitchell's return gives the young linebackers another veteran to watch.
"It's really good for the younger guys," he said. "Actually seeing what you have to do helps a lot. There's only so much you can say. Most of our linebackers are visual learners. If they see me do it, that can help."
Smith's circuitous route to Marshall (2-4, 1-2) - he grew up mostly in Germany, but has lived in Texas, Delaware and Maryland, visited Dubai, Spain, Italy and France and transferred from Blinn Community College in Texas - nearly came to an end in the preseason. He said one doctor told him a comeback from his back injury might not be a good idea. A second opinion and a surgery later, he started the road to recovery.
It's not his first or his toughest setback, the 6-foot-3, 288-pound Smith said. He spent his senior year at Copperas Cove High as essentially a scout-team player after the governing body of Texas high school sports declared him ineligible for transferring schools by choice rather than need.
"The way I looked at the (injury) situation, I've been through worse," he said. "I looked at it as a minor setback. I just had to work every day and rehab hard."
Now that he's back and healthy, the grind of battling in the trenches of the defensive line is something he relishes.
"It feels great," he said. "It feels like a blessing to be here. I'm happy every day to come out here."
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QUARTERBACK RAKEEM Cato was one of 10 additions to the Manning Award watch list Wednesday. The award, named after the quarterbacking Manning family - father Archie and sons Peyton and Eli - is given to the nation's top collegiate quarterback. Ten finalists will be named Nov. 28 and the winner will be announced Jan. 9.
Cato leads the nation in completions (218) and passing yards (2,311) and is third in total offense (2,351 yards) and tied for fifth in touchdown passes (18). He also leads Conference USA in passing efficiency (147.3).
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REDSHIRT FRESHMAN Armonze Daniel made the transition from strong-side linebacker to rush end in the preseason, but he's been moonlighting at his old position during games this year.
He has to flip a switch in his mind when it happens, going from focusing on rushing the quarterback at end to different coverages as a linebacker. Yet Daniel said it hasn't been too tough.
"It's all about just want-to, being able to adjust," he said. "Being able to transition from playing rush end to playing linebacker, to me, is all the same. It's just really playing football."
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Daniel has nine tackles, including one for a five-yard loss, through six games.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.