In-state walk-ons can have big impact

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has never been known as a hotbed for college football recruiting, even if every few years a player such as Randy Moss, Aaron Dobson or Ryan Switzer comes along and makes a few coaches’ eyes light up.

Otherwise, the majority of Marshall’s recruiting is done out-of-state—its roster loaded with players from Florida and Georgia was especially good to The Herd in the class of 2014. But Doc Holliday and recruiting coordinator Todd Hartley did not want to forget the players with Division I potential right here at home.

“We wanted to try to step foot in every school in the state,” said Hartley. “Not that we were going to sign all these kids as scholarship kids, but to say we haven’t forgotten about West Virginia. This is our home state. We want these kids who want to play Division 1-A football who are good enough to come and walk on.”

On Feb. 5, several in-state players took the opportunity to declare their intentions to join the Marshall football program as preferred walk-ons. Jacob Jackson (George Washington), Chase Hancock (Woodrow Wilson), and Austin Hill (Nicholas County) have all signed to walk-on with The Herd. Khance Johnson (South Charleston), Josh Martin (Madonna), and Jake Parker (Meadow Bridge) also have offers to walk-on at Marshall.

Preferred walk-ons don’t receive the fanfare as the 25 or so prospects who are offered scholarships each year, but that doesn’t mean they will not end up having a significant of an impact on the program. Chris Jasperse, a three-year starter and one of the top centers in C-USA going into his senior season, walked on at Marshall and earned his scholarship. Hartley said any recruit who thinks being a walk-on means being a tackling dummy on the scout team should realize otherwise.

“The model I use is Derek Mitchell,” said Hartley. “He came as a walk-on from Point Pleasant and earned a starting position on every special-teams unit his freshman year.”

Mitchell made the most of his time at Marshall, staying on scholarship through his senior year and becoming a special-teams captain. Mitchell may have not possessed the attributes of a five-star prospect but he enthused coaches and peers by working hard day in and day out and obviously loved to play football.

“He’s a West Virginia kid,” said Hartley. “If we can get a kid like that to come that is a huge success for our program.

Prior to National Signing Day, Holliday promised his staff would visit each high school in West Virginia to find another Derek Mitchell.  Some scoffed at the notion that Holliday and is his staff would take the time to visit West Virginia’s high schools, but Holliday kept his promise, hitting all but two schools. The only exceptions were missed because of adverse weather.

“We are looking for kids like that,” Hartley said of Mitchell and other walk-ons who have made names for themselves. “They have a role in our program and on our team.”

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