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Marshall football: Reaching the end zone key for kickoff candidates

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall University football team's kickoff job could come down to the legs of a pair of freshmen.

Amoreto Curraj of Tampa, Fla., and Nick Smith of Plain City, Ohio walked into preseason camp and instantly threw their hats into the ring for that starting role. Both have had pretty good days getting the ball into the end zone, and they both know that's what the Thundering Herd coaches want to see.

"They're looking for touchbacks," Curraj said. "The deeper the ball, the better the ball."

Touchbacks didn't come often for the Herd last season. Of Marshall's 83 kickoffs in 2013, only six were downed for touchbacks, a paltry 7.23-percent rate. That led to some other disappointing numbers, mainly the three kickoff returns for touchdowns the Herd allowed last season.

Smith said he's excited to have the shot at the kickoff job. The transition from high school to college hasn't been easy and he's been working toward this opportunity since his junior year at Alder High School. Curraj has only been kicking a football since his junior year at Leto High, playing soccer before that.

"My junior year, when I started kicking field goals and hit a 50-yarder my first year and my kickoffs were going through the uprights," he said. "Then, I started seeing all these scouts around and I was like, 'Oh, this is serious. I could have a chance here."

Both still have the chance to win the job and no matter the winner, Smith said he's enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to grow closer to the other kickers.

"It's friendly competition," he said. "We're all out here hanging out and spending all day with each other. It's what I've been looking forward to. I've only been here a week and I already feel that chemistry."

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SATURDAY'S scrimmage will kick off a bit later than last Saturday's. The Herd will begin Saturday's session at 7 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium after going head to head last Saturday morning. Holliday said he moved the scrimmage to later in the day to better simulate a typical game day. Four of Marshall's 2013 games are scheduled for 7 p.m. or later, including the Herd's season opener Aug. 31 versus Miami (Ohio).

Holliday said it'll be good for the team to play under the stadium lights early.

"We'll kind of get a feel of what it will be like on game day," he said. "Unfortunately, 7 p.m., it'll still be a little light out, but that's the same as it will be when we open up. We're just trying to simulate as much as we can."

It might allow the coaches to experience some game-day conditions, too. Holliday is considering putting some of the coaches in the booth, especially since so many are new to the staff. The scrimmage will be open to Big Green members only, though memberships can be bought Saturday at Gate A.

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THE TEAM DRILLS have been a bit more competitive this season, Holliday said, and that's good news for him.  During one streak in Wednesday afternoon third-down drills, the defense got to quarterback Rakeem Cato three consecutive times for touch "sacks." The more difficult the defense makes it for the offense in the preseason, Holliday said, the easier it should be for the offense in the regular season.

"This time last year, they weren't winning a whole lot of them and the offense was moving the ball down the field, which wasn't a good thing," he said. "The defense has to continue to get better than they are and, because the defense is better and they're playing with better players, it's going to help our offense."

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


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