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Marshall football: Safeties, friends happy to be at MU

HUNTINGTON - Since beginning their odyssey in college football, Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha have been a package deal - safeties, teammates, roommates, best pals.

When the two left Boston College earlier this year, they wanted to move on and end their collegiate careers as a duo. Marshall gave them that opportunity.

"That's why we're here, man," Okoroha said. "It's like, we have one year left, and we want to be with each other. He lifts me up out there and makes me better."

The two arrived as graduate students and instantly gave the Thundering Herd's secondary an added veteran presence. It's not just their experience that made them essential in a short period of time, it's their performance as well. The two quickly became a pair of the top tacklers in Conference USA.

Their collegiate career is drawing to a close. It could end Friday when the Herd (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) visits East Carolina (7-4, 6-1 C-USA) at 2 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). If Marshall upsets the Pirates in Greenville, N.C., LeGrande and Okoroha's college playing days get an extension. Either way, the two consider coming to Marshall among the best decisions of their young lives.

"It's one of them," LeGrande said. "We're just grateful for the opportunity they gave us. Things could have ended up a lot worse for us. We just thank God every day when we wake up that we're here and have another shot."

Okoroha was dismissed from Boston College for disciplinary reasons in August 2011 and LeGrande left on his own shortly thereafter. The two stuck around to get their bachelor's degrees and started looking for places to transfer and play right away as graduate students. It wasn't easy. Among the issues was their desire to spend that last season on the same team. Some schools only wanted one of them, but they didn't want to split.

"There were so many obstacles," LeGrande said. "It was like another obstacle after another. It was a sigh of relief when they took us."

The two arrived in Huntington in the summer and went straight to work.

They didn't boast about their ACC resume. They looked around, were impressed with the talent they joined and were thankful for the opportunity to line up against an offense as potent as the Herd's every day in practice. Their leap into the starting lineup was a quick one.

Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said LeGrande and Okoroha became integral members of the team in a very short time.

"I can't say enough about those two kids," Holliday said. "I guarantee you they give you everything they've got. They play as hard as they can play. I'm just glad they're here."

Part of the reason he's glad is that he could insert them into the secondary and move other talented athletes into positions of need. With LeGrande at strong safety and Okoroha at free safety, Devin Arrington could move back to his natural outside linebacker role, and D.J. Hunter could move from the secondary to strong-side linebacker to upgrade the athleticism there.

Offensive tackle Jordan Jeffries saw the pair grow into their roles from the other side of the ball, and how they not only became comfortable with the scheme, but comfortable with their teammates as well.

"It all started when they first came here in the summer time. When we're in camp in the summer, we spend every minute together, which was good, because they got with that defense, they got to know everybody and they got to know the system. Both of them are just freak athletes. To get all those tackles and play the entire game, I've got nothing but respect for them."

It's tackling where the two have made their greatest contributions. Okoroha is seventh in the conference with 104 tackles, averaging 9.4 per game. LeGrande is not only second in C-USA, but he's eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 121 tackles, averaging 11 per game. Okoroha also has 2.5 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery, while LeGrande has three tackles for loss, two interceptions, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Neither safety is holding anything back, especially Okoroha, who played Marshall's win against Houston with a cast on his right hand the size of a medieval mace. The two know their time in college football is waning and want to spend as much time as possible together on the field. During Marshall's Senior Day ceremony, the pair jogged out to midfield at the same time.

They know this short week of preparation could earn them a 13th game and are charging into it with urgency.

"It's huge," Okoroha said. "This week of practice, this whole week's going to be huge. We're going to come out to work. We've got to win this."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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