HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When a football player's body is simply allowed to react without overthinking, it does wonders for easing his mind. That's what Marshall linebacker Jermaine Holmes is learning this year.
Of the players benefiting from Thundering Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater's new schemes, Holmes feels he's among those taking the greatest advantage. It helped the junior from Valdosta, Ga., put together the Herd's best defensive performance in its 52-14 win on Saturday over Miami (Ohio). It also gives him confidence heading into this Saturday's game at 6:30 p.m. against Gardner-Webb.
Holmes already was an integral part of Marshall's defense. Last season, he started nine of 12 games and finished fourth on the team with 82 total tackles. He also led the Herd with 13.5 tackles for loss. But he didn't always feel he could make the most of his 5-foot-11, 243-pound frame or the strength and athleticism that earned him the nickname of "Freak."
Much of that had to do with the encyclopedia of words he needed to make the defensive calls last season. He worried that he'd make a mistake, those worries caused him to hesitate and that hesitation kept him from working at top speed the entire game.
Under Heater, the calls are simplified, using one or two words where five words were needed before. The worry has disappeared and confidence now can be found it its place.
"I feel way more relaxed than last year with the play calling and my position," he said.
"If I do something, I'm going full speed. I'm going 100 miles an hour and not thinking 'Oh, did I mess up?' And if I did mess up, I'm not worrying about it. I'm going on to the next play and I know coach will talk about it in film the next day."
That confidence showed against the RedHawks. Holmes tied Neville Hewitt for the team lead with eight total tackles and led the Herd with three tackles for loss and a sack. Those three TFLs tied him with 10 other Football Bowl Subdivision players for the eighth-best total in the nation in college football's opening weekend.
Holmes' performance made Marshall coach Doc Holliday take notice.
"He's playing really well," Holliday said after Saturday's game. "He's playing the best football he has since he's been here. That has to continue."