Marshall football: Healthy McKelvey back to make an impact
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Evan McKelvey looked last season like a linebacker primed to make a major contribution to the Marshall football team in a short period of time. To his, and the Thundering Herd's, dismay, his 2012 season was just that - short.
Cut down just three games into the year with a season-ending knee injury, McKelvey had a long, hard road returning to the field. But the younger brother of former Herd great Omar Brown is back in pads and trying to build on last season's impressive start.
In just his second season on the Herd roster, McKelvey showed he had a pretty good ability to sniff out ball carriers. He recorded 14 tackles in the Herd's first three games, a 4.7-tackle-per-game average. That's a per-game mark that ranked seventh on Marshall's defense last year.
But while covering a kickoff in Marshall's 27-24 loss to Ohio last season, McKelvey tore both his anterior cruiciate ligament and meniscus. His season was over.
"When I did it, it was the worst pain ever," McKelvey said. "After I got up, after a couple of minutes, I was ready to go back in. I didn't feel it anymore, but I felt that if I tried any juking or anything, my knee would pop right out."
The pain subsided shortly after the actual injury, but following surgery, the struggle to get back to full health wasn't easy, McKelvey said.
"The recovery process, man, I wouldn't put anybody through that," he said. "The first couple months were the worst time I'd ever been through. The trainers did a really good job helping me out with that. Now I'm happy I got through it, that's all I can say."
New linebackers coach Adam Fuller isn't surprised that the 6-foot-1, 210-pound redshirt junior made a full recovery. McKelvey has a personality, he said, that is good for the position room and a good nature that has earned the respect of his teammates.
"I don't know if Evan's ever had a bad day," Fuller said.
The days when McKelvey put himself through grueling rehabilitation were no picnic, but that he got through them doesn't surprise Fuller either. The choice to make that comeback comes even before the injury. It comes from an innate passion for the sport, and that's something Fuller sees in McKelvey.
"You play the sport, you're going to get hurt," Fuller said. "You might get injured. If you do, you have to make a decision - you stop playing or you get back and get better. And that's what Evan chose to do and it's showing up. He's healthy now, he's running around and he's playing well."
McKelvey admits he's had some rust to knock off. That's to be expected after missing nine games in 2012 and the entire spring season to rehab and recovery. But with each crack of the pads, the linebacker feels a little more rust falling off after every practice.
"There's always that first hit that rings you, so you can get back into hitting," McKelvey said. "But, coming back, learning how to fit things ... I'm not that big of a linebacker, but trying to beat offensive linemen much bigger than you, you have to learn the technique. Being rusty, they can get up on you really quick."
McKelvey is happy to have Fuller guiding him this season. He said the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive coordinator makes learning the position much easier, breaking down plays to their essence and making sure every linebacker understands what he's supposed to do.
McKelvey wants to be 100 percent both physically and mentally to make a mark in new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater's scheme.
He also wants to try to eclipse the work of his older brother, a 2011 all-Conference USA first team safety who make the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent and earned a Super Bowl ring in January.
McKelvey appreciates the standard Brown set both for him and their brother, University of Kentucky junior linebacker Kory Brown. McKelvey does, however, feel he's passed Omar Brown in one category.
While his older brother may have the lead on him in on-the-field success, McKelvey has declared his domination of Omar Brown in the John Madden football video game. Brown has claimed McKelvey is dominating him on the game console, but McKelvey has a different opinion.
"He's a person that's in denial," McKelvey said with a laugh and a smile. "I'm just that much better than him at Madden. And when I win, it's not just a win. It's a blowout."
Fuller said that, if McKelvey keeps working, he could reach what his older brother has done at Marshall as well.
"Everything I hear about (Brown), it seems they're cut from the same cloth - a really good human being, loves Marshall and loves the game," Fuller said.
"Evan's ready to make his own mark."
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.