Marshall football: Transfers seek piece of action at wideout
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Shawney Kersey and Devon Smith had identical reactions to watching the Marshall football team's offense.
The pair of wide receivers saw quarterback Rakeem Cato and a deep corps of wideouts sling the Thundering Herd to the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision passing rankings and knew they wanted to be a part of it.
Now both Kersey and Smith, former Penn State receivers, are on Marshall's practice field this spring, working their way into the Herd's passing game and hoping they can help keep the unit among college football's elite.
Kersey and Smith are two in a trio of Penn State transfers with cornerback Derrick Thomas, all able to leave State College and be immediately eligible elsewhere due to the NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Smith came to Huntington with Thomas last season, but sat out until this spring. Kersey stuck around for new Penn State Coach Bill O'Brien and started the first two games of 2012 before leaving for personal reasons.
The two watched Marshall's passing game explode in 2012, though from different perspectives. Kersey watched from afar, while Smith, nicknamed "Moo-Moo," had a front-row seat on the Herd sideline.
As Smith saw the Herd scorch opposing defenses, all he could think of was getting a piece of the action.
"That's all I could say on the sidelines, I just couldn't wait to get out there," Smith said. "I'm excited, really excited and pumped up."
Kersey got a tip to give Cato and Marshall a look, and it wasn't long before he was hooked, too.
"My brother let me know, there's a quarterback, No. 12 at Marshall University, you should check him out," Kersey said. "I did my research and checked it out and I was impressed. I still am."
The duo will take different roles in Marshall's offense. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Smith is far from the biggest guy on the field, but it's rare that he isn't the fastest. He was the 2009 Nike indoor national champion in the 60-meter dash and already has shown that speed on the practice field. During the first week of spring, Smith took a short pass, sprinted to his right, then up the sideline and darted away from the defense.
And that was done on a surgically repaired foot that he said limited him to about "60 to 70 percent" of his top speed.
"I think I probably surprise a lot of people on the team," Smith said. "They knew I was fast, but they didn't know how fast I was. I know they respect me."
With his size, Smith will play in the slot, though that starting role is in the firm grip of all-Conference-USA first-team selection Tommy Shuler, who broke Marshall's single-season receptions record by catching 110 passes. Smith appreciates Shuler's skill and hopes he can work himself into the rotation, and perhaps join Shuler on the field.
"He's a great player," Smith said. "You can't explain 100 catches. That's something you can't teach, route running. I learn from him. It's a pleasure to see what he can do and step on the field and try to get on the field at the same time."
Kersey, at 6-1 and 191 pounds, is attempting to become one of Marshall's starting outside receivers. Both spots are open for competition after Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson, both of whom sit among the Herd's top 11 in career catches, graduated. Even though he hasn't been around Huntington for long, Kersey said he's been able to digest Marshall's playbook and he's starting to become comfortable.
"These guys already are really good and if I work hard, I can help, possibly, and make us a little better and be another weapon for Cato to throw to," Kersey said.
"They lost a few guys last year, I figured they could use the help and that I could do it."
Thomas, who worked against both Smith and Kersey on Penn State's practice fields, said Smith isn't the only speed demon among the two. Kersey is a fast receiver himself.
"Moo-Moo is a great underneath fast threat," he said. "Shawney is a great over-the-top fast threat.
"The thing I think makes Moo-Moo the best is that, he's a little guy, but he's tough as hell. And he almost never drops the ball. Shawney is a big, physical receiver. Cato's going to put the ball right there almost every time. With Shawney having that big of a body, it's going to make it a lot easier for Cato. "
What's made it easier for all three of them, especially Kersey, is that they have each other as familiar faces on a new team. Thomas and Smith have a year of experience in Huntington, which made it much easier for Kersey to make the transition.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," Kersey said. "I've been with Moo-Moo since Day 1 in college and I've been with Derrick since Day 1 in college, too. They're comfortable here, so I'm comfortable here. It's not even a problem."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.