HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Keith Baxter didn't care much about that blue no-contact jersey he has sported during spring football drills.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore cornerback pursued wide receiver Demetrius Evans in Marshall's intrasquad scrimmage Friday at Edwards Stadium. Evans was running from right to left in the end zone as the ball came toward him.
Just as Evans put his hands on the ball, he was hit from behind. It was Baxter, and the two players and the ball fell to the ground.
"Contact isn't a problem for me," said Baxter, who had surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. "I'm back to lifting weights now and I'm getting stronger."
His performance - and elevated standing on the Herd's depth chart - support that claim.
A ballyhooed arrival last summer, Baxter played in six games and made four tackles as a true freshman in 2011. He admittedly struggled with the transition from Homestead (Fla.) High School football star to Marshall University student-athlete.
"Last year was hard because when I came in, you know, everybody expected me to come in and play right away," Baxter said. "I had to learn a lot and Coach Holliday and the other coaches made it clear I wasn't showing I was ready for it."
Baxter, a 3-star prep football prospect who took official visits to Syracuse and New Mexico, skipped a redshirt but struggled to crack the two-deep. But, this spring he has seen more repetitions with the first until opposite rising junior Darryl Roberts.
"That means a lot because I worked really hard to run with the ones," Baxter said. "I'm used to being out there and competing with guys on my level."
First-year cornerbacks coach Lytrell Pollard urged patience with the talented sophomore.
"People forget he's a young pup," Pollard said. "He's just got to relax. The thing with playing corner is he's so aggressive and sometimes that aggression hurts him."
That mentality, however, is what led Baxter to the defensive side of the ball.
His father, also Keith Baxter, is a well-known name to the Marshall faithful. The elder Baxter starred at receiver from 1984-87 and caught passes from Herd quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen.
When Petersen was recruiting Baxter, he brought tapes of the former Herd QB and receiver.
Baxter may have followed in his father's footsteps by coming to Marshall, but he is carving his own niche at another position.