HUNTINGTON – When you’re running through the top leaders on Marshall’s 2014 football team, names like Rakeem Cato, James Rouse, Chris Jasperse, Tommy Shuler and Eric Frohnapfel come to mind.
Don’t forget Darryl “Swagg” Roberts … but it seems like plenty of people have, as the Herd points toward what is predicted to be a banner season.
The redshirt senior from Lakeland, Fla., is on none of those national award watch lists. Last season, Roberts was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection, after bouncing back following a lost 2012 season due to a broken right ankle.
“That’s a mistake. Swagg should have at least been second team,” Herd Coach Doc Holliday said the day that team appeared.
The 6-foot, 182-pound Roberts brings strength and savvy to his boundary corner position. And on a cornerback unit that has plenty of inexperience, he’s an unquestioned leader. Heading into an Aug. 30 opener at Miami (Ohio), Roberts’ 28 career starts is tops on the MU defense.
“If I do, or if I don’t, it wouldn’t matter,” Roberts said when asked if he feels his play and value are overlooked outside of his own team. “I’m just trying to execute my job, stay focused, take it one day at a time and be the best I can be. And at the end of the season, we’ll see what happens.”
Herd defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chuck Heater surely recognizes Roberts’ ability and contribution. When Heater arrived at Marshall 16 months ago, he didn’t have much of a book on the cornerback, because he wasn’t on 2012 video.
“Swagg has a very good football IQ,” Heater said after the Herd practice Monday morning. “He kind of sees things before they happen. He has those instincts, and that’s important because he can anticipate situations so he can play a little faster.”
“Plus, he has good skill set. He’s kind of a long guy, decent size, but his instincts, his awareness are his best qualities. He’s stronger than most guys his size, too.”
Roberts set a Herd all-time record for cornerbacks and safeties in conditioning this summer when in pro bench testing (225-pound repetitions), he did 22. No other current Herd cornerback topped Roberts’ 1,050 pounds in three lifting disciplines (bench, squat, power clean).
His 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump ranked second among the Herd, 1 inch behind freshman running back Brandon Byrd. Roberts’ 36-inch vertical jump also was no. 2, four inches behind safety-turned-linebacker D.J. Hunter.
“I was always pretty strong for my weight,” Roberts said, “but once Coach (Scott) Sinclair got here to run the weight room he just pushed us really hard and I just got stronger. I took it seriously, coming into my junior year and now coming into my last year here.”
Roberts had two of the Herd’s 18 interceptions in 2013 to go with seven pass breakups. His career totals in those statistics are four and 16. He’s also blocked two kicks, a UAB punt in 2011 and a PAT at Tulsa last season.
Roberts ranked sixth among Herd tacklers last season (58 in his 13 games), and wants to finish strong this season. He also understands his “pick” numbers could be better, but opposing quarterbacks do respect him and his cover skills.
“What I didn’t do last year that I want this year is to make a lot more interceptions and try to score,” Roberts said. “I just want to be a big help to my defense and my team, help anyway I can, on special teams, whatever. Maybe they don’t throw my way and it’s respect, but that can’t change the approach. I’ve still got to stay on my game and focus because you never know when that play’s going to be when your number is called. I’ve just got to stay zoned in, because they might dial my number.”
The Herd lost 2013 seniors Monterius Lovett and Derrick Thomas at corner. Besides Roberts, redshirt junior Keith Baxter is hoping to come back after a lost season due to multiple shoulder injuries. Sophomore Corey Tindal – last season’s nickel back — joins those two as the Herd’s top three corners.
Heater said freshmen D’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson and Antavis Rowe and sophomore Michael Johnson are vying to be the Herd’s “fourth corner … and hopefully you can find a fifth there, too. You’re going to need them.”
The coordinator and secondary coach is counting on Roberts’ leadership skills in a big way.
“He’s been around, been here five years (this season) and the players have a lot of respect for him,” Heater said. “When he says something, people are going to respect and listen to him. He’s a key piece for us, no doubt, with a lot of experience.”
Roberts provides the Herd’s back line with speed, athleticism and toughness.
“I just try to take pride in everything,” he said. “When Coach Heater first came in, he told me we can’t have any soft guys on defense, anything like that, so I try to take pride in my tackling and all aspects of my game … playing the ball better and being a better all-around athlete. Being a leader is very important. Coach Heater always preaches leadership and lead by example, so I just try to lead the corners and the whole secondary and come out here on the practice field and do that. And it helps a lot going against our offense every day.
“Going against (Rakeem) Cato, one of the top quarterbacks in the country, he’s going to give me his best shot every time he comes out here and he knows I’m going to give him my best shot. That’s how we are. The ultimate goal is just to work hard and help everyone out here get better every day, and that way our team is better.”
Herd signs series
with NC State
Marshall Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick last week announced the Thundering Herd and North Carolina State have signed for a home-and-home football series in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The teams will meet Sept. 9, 2017 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., with a return game at Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Sept. 22, 2018.
NC State is the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to sign for a home-and-home series with the Thundering Herd. New ACC member Louisville is scheduled to play at Marshall in 2016, in a game that is a return for the Herd’s 2011 win at Louisville, then in the old Big East Conference.
State’s trip to Huntington in 2018 also gives Marshall home dates with three power conference teams over four seasons. Purdue (Big Ten) is scheduled for the Sept. 5, 2015 season opener at Edwards Stadium, and Louisville (ACC) is scheduled to visit Sept. 24, 2016 before the Wolfpack comes to Marshall two seasons later.
“North Carolina State is a very good opponent for us,” Hamrick said, “and it’s an exciting matchup for our football program and for our fans. Our Herd followers will be enthused about the close proximity of the game at State, and will welcome the Wolfpack as a quality attraction here at Edwards Stadium.”
One of Marshall coach Doc Holliday’s previous coaching stops was NC State, from 2000-04. The Herd has played the Wolfpack three times during MU’s NCAA Division I-AA days – losses at Carter-Finley Stadium in 1991, ’93 and ’95.
The NC State series adds to Marshall’s quality matchups created during Hamrick’s five-plus years as AD at his alma mater. The Herd has had or will play home-and-homes with Purdue, Louisville, NC State, East Carolina and Navy (through 2022). Hamrick also has renewed or rekindled series with longtime rivals Ohio and Miami (Ohio) and scheduled former Mid-American Conference foes Akron and Kent State.
“Along with the realignment in Conference USA that brings road games closer to our fans when we visit Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Charlotte and Old Dominion, a series with NC State also fits into our regional scheduling desires,” Hamrick said.
The series with NC State gives the Herd three non-conference games in 2017 – home dates with Miami (Ohio) and Kent State, and the game at NC State. The 2018 non-league schedule to date includes a game at Miami (Ohio) and home against the Wolfpack.
The Herd opens the 2014 season at Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 30, in a 3:30 p.m. kickoff (ESPN3), and plays the first of six regular-season home games on Sept. 6 against Rhode Island in a 7 p.m. start.