Marshall football: Herd cornerback Leggett working to stay in the mix
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- A.J. Leggett's 2012 season with Marshall ended before it really had a chance to start. A four-star cornerback out of South Miami High, he didn't play a snap in the regular season following shoulder surgery.
He's wearing a red limited-contact jersey as a safety this spring, but the redshirt freshman has been in the mix on the field since practice started last week.
"I'm coming out here trying to get all the reps I can for my team, so by the time fall comes, I won't be behind," he said. "So I'm out here trying to bust my butt and get every rep I can."
As highly touted as he was out of high school, the Thundering Herd could have used him in the secondary, especially after injuries left the corners with a rotation of just three players. The corner rotation is healthy and solid right now, which allowed Leggett to move back to safety.
"My coaches told me (after the injury) to not even panic," Leggett said. "Everything happens for a reason. I trust them telling me that I'm going to come back 100 percent or even stronger."
After nearly a year's layoff, Leggett now is trying to readjust to the speed of the field and the nuances of new coordinator Chuck Heater's defense. He said that's been going pretty well so far, especially with the quality of the wide receivers he's facing every day.
"I know they're going to get us better," the 5-foot 11, 191-pound Legget said. "We've got great receivers on that side of the ball. I'm just coming out to compete."
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SEBASTIAN JOHANSSON isn't letting a little thing like a couple of dislocated fingers impede his climb up the Herd offensive line's depth chart. The 6-5, 282-pound native of Karlstad, Sweden, has the last two fingers of each hand taped together after dislocating a digit on both during the first two weeks of practice.
Yet that hasn't stopped the redshirt sophomore from impressing the coaches. He's worked his way into the two-deep rotation at left guard, even though he was nowhere to be found on that list last season. He had seven years of experience in American-style football, but played just one year of football in America, as a junior at Raceland (Ky.) High. He returned to Sweden for his senior year before joining the team in 2011.
Johansson said he understood how much work he needed in 2012, so the lack of playing time wasn't too frustrating.
"It was just a teaching year as how I saw it," Johansson said. "I couldn't get mad at it. I blame myself 110 percent. It was just keep watching, keep learning and go from there."
The most important thing he's learned during his tenure at Marshall is improved technique.
"Technique is everything," Johannson said. "With Coach (Alex) Mirabal, he's so fundamentally sound in everything we do. We have to be on point with each other and the trust we have is just tremendous this year."
Mirabal said he's liked what he's seen from Johansson so far this spring, and he's like the grittiness brought by the Herd's Swedish import, as well as the rest of the line.
"They tough it out, without me having to tell them anything," he said. "So I have a tough group and I'm appreciative of it."
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WHEN OTHERS talk about Mirabal as a coach, they mention his passion for coaching as much as his expertise. Yet when he shows that passion, he doesn't let the flame burn out of control. Some of the credit, he said, goes to not only being a South Florida high school coach for more than a decade, but to being a high school history and government teacher as well.
"I pride myself on being a teacher," he said. "I'm very enthusiastic, but I'm more of a positive enthusiasm than a negative enthusiasm. I'll criticize and critique their technique and their footwork, but not them as human beings.
"To me," he added. "That's not what it's about. They're out there trying. When they miss a block, they didn't do that stuff on purpose."
It can initially be startling to see Mirabal, who stands 5-foot-5, mentor college offensive linemen like 6-7 Corey Tenney or 6-8 Jordan Jeffries who tower over him. Mirabal said it's always been that way, so he doesn't know any better. But when players hear the lessons he teaches, they don't pay attention to stature.
"Once you open your mouth and start teaching, and they see the stuff that you're teaching them works on the field, all of a sudden you start reeling them in," he said.
"I tell people all the time, I've seen a lot of men deliver babies, but I haven't seen one man have a child."
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MARSHALL IS asking fans coming to Saturday morning's practice, scheduled to start at 9:15, to enter Joan C. Edwards stadium through Gate D and sit on the east side of the stadium as construction continues on the press box.
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.