— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — There are 40 new faces on the 2023 Marshall football roster, 25 of which are transfers.
After nearly three weeks of practices, several have proven worthy of significant playing time this fall.
One player garnering attention from the Herd’s defensive coaches is a local project in former Cabell Midland all-stater J.J. Roberts, who transferred from Wake Forest after the 2022 season. Roberts, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound redshirt junior defensive back, played in 10 of the Demon Deacons’ 13 games last fall and recorded 20 tackles and seven pass breakups.
“The level of competition here is very high and it’s exciting when I see this happen,” Roberts said. “Sometimes we might have a little drop-off during a practice, but we’ve been stacking up plenty of good practices and we continue to get better and learn from the mistakes that we make.”
Roberts has received praise and attention from Marshall fans as a local product, but he feels no pressure and is getting plenty of assistance from Head head coach Charles Huff and his staff.
“The coaching staff has made me feel like family since I came in,” Roberts said. “The connection I have with everybody on the team has allowed me to be comfortable in every situation on the field.”
Another defender who didn’t have to travel far to make a new home at Marshall is former Ohio University linebacker Kylen McCracken, a 6-3, 306-pound defensive lineman. McCracken joins a defensive front that features preseason All-Sun Belt Conference defensive end Owen Porter and key returnees Sam Burton, Elijah Alston, TyQaze Leggs — as well as another key transfer in Brandon McElroy, who came from Arizona State.
A native of Cleveland, McCracken totaled 31 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack in 25 career games with the Bobcats.
“There is a lot more volume here and it’s way more fast-paced,” McCracken said. “There’s a lot more attention to detail at Marshall and everybody here has the hunger to win in their eyes.”
Although he left an Ohio program that won the Mid-American Conference East Division last fall, McCracken believes he’s taken a step up in talent while trying to compete for a job with the Herd.
“There’s talent from the young guys to the old guys,” McCracken said. “I’ve been around a lot of dudes over the years, but there’s something different here because everyone is serious and the sky’s the limit.”
Huff has been pleased with the early work of a group of receivers that he believes will bring quality play this fall to a position that suffered from defections last winter, including the departure of last year’s leading receiver Corey Gammage.
One of the new faces in the Marshall receivers room is Kentucky transfer DeMarcus Harris.
Harris played in all but one of the Wildcats’ 13 games last fall, making four catches for 90 yards, including a 58-yarder against Youngstown State. In his UK career, Harris, who hails from Vero Beach, Florida, played in 39 career games with eight starts and caught 30 passes for 327 yards and one touchdown.
At Marshall, Harris is reunited with his former position coach at Kentucky, Herd receivers coach and passing game coordinator Jovon Bouknight.
“He’s definitely a technician with his work,” Harris said. “He’s very detailed and he knows how to get to a higher level and it helps with him being in the room.”