Marshall football: Johnson will never be lonely’ with Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It's not often that a high school football player switches from Florida State University to Marshall, but freshman safety Michael Johnson couldn't pass up the chance to play with several friends.
While he verbally committed to the Seminoles shortly after 2012's National Signing Day, he signed with the Thundering Herd in February. Among the reasons that the Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington High School standout made the switch were fellow defensive backs A.J. Leggett and Keith Baxter, quarterback Rakeem Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler. They were among the close friends and high school opponents on the Herd roster that made Huntington feel more like home.
"That made the situation better," Johnson said. "I'll never get lonely. I'll always have someone to talk to and keep me going. If I mess up on a play, I have A.J. and Keith that are steady on me. They stay on my back and keep me going."
Johnson, at 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds, came to the Herd with exceptional credentials. ESPN rated him a four-star prospect, while Rivals, Scout and 247Sports rated him three stars. Rivals ranked him the nation's No. 27 safety prospect after helping Booker T. Washington to the Florida Class 4A state title. Now he joins a secondary teeming with physical talent and bolstered by a number of players returning from injury, Leggett among them.
"It's nothing but hard work and dedication," Johnson said. "The most I can do is keep working and working and learning from the upperclassmen."
Aside from his fellow Dade County transplants, Johnson enjoyed the Herd's overall close-knit atmosphere, one he wanted to join.
"When I came on my visit here, it was just different," Johnson said. "Everyone comes together. We're not only playing for us. We're playing for Marshall and we're playing for the 75 people that died in the plane crash. I really felt like I could come here and make an impact."
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A PAIR OF receivers is getting closer to returning to the practice field. Biletnikoff Award watch list member Tommy Shuler and Davonte Allen were getting eased into more drills Tuesday, and Coach Doc Holliday said the plan was to increase their workload throughout the rest of the week.
"If we had to play, they could go play Saturday," Holliday said. "We don't want to throw them in there all at once, but they'll ease them in there this week a little bit and, by Monday, they'll be ready to go."
Shuler caught a school-record 110 passes last season for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns, earning all-Conference USA first-team honors after last season and in this preseason. Allen caught 12 passes for 190 yards and two scores.
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IT WAS WHAT freshman receiver Josh Knight did off the field that gave him the honor of losing the red stripe from his helmet this week. About two weeks ago, Knight was coming back from lunch when he saw a woman struggling to carry her groceries home. He grabbed the bags of cans and other items and walked them home for her - 12 blocks.
"My mom always taught me to do the right thing," Knight, a 6-foot, 184-pound receiver from Fort Pierce, Fla., said. "I just thought the right thing was helping her out and getting her wherever she needed to go."
The woman wrote a letter to the football program describing Knight's good deed. Holliday read it to the team after practice Monday evening and removed the red stripe right there.
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LINEBACKER KENT Turene was ready to make his Herd debut during the spring sessions, after sitting a year as an academic non-qualifier. What the team got was just a quick preview, as he spent all but one week in the spring sidelined with a severely sprained ankle.
After recovering from surgery, where doctors inserted two screws into his ankle, Turene is ready for his full-fledged unveiling this preseason. He said he's enjoyed being able to take the field and become more comfortable in new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater's aggressive scheme.
It wasn't fun being forced to sit, Turene said, but he took it as a learning moment.
"Sometimes life throws you different things, and you have to handle adversity," Turene said. "That's what I did. I handled adversity and was working harder to come back."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.