HUNTINGTON — Blake Brooks and Michael Selby got a taste of their futures at the end of last season.
Inserted early into the Military Bowl against Maryland in December, the pair of offensive guards helped spark Marshall’s offense at a time the unit needed it. It instilled in them the confidence that they could contribute even more.
It instilled the same confidence in the Thundering Herd’s coaching staff.
Brooks and Selby are running this spring with Marshall’s first-team offensive line, and the coaches feel their strength can help keep the Herd’s offense rolling.
On Marshall’s third offensive series of the Military Bowl, the Herd switched out starting guards Sebastian Johansson and Alex Schooler with Brooks and Selby. Almost immediately, the backup duo helped get Marshall’s running game on track.
“I had my eyes closed on those first couple (plays) from the sidelines,” Holliday said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, but they went in there and they played well. And it gives them a lot of confidence.”
In the Herd’s first two series, the offense went three-and-out in both with a total of minus-1 rushing yards. In the third — with the 277-pound Selby on one side of center Chris Jasperse and the 317-pound Brooks on the other — Essray Taliaferro gained 21 yards on four carries and the Herd finished the drive with its first touchdown of the day.
Offensive line coach Alex Mirabal said it always was the plan to stick Brooks and Selby into the lineup on that third drive. Schooler and Johansson were playing hurt and Brooks and Selby saw their practice participation prior to the bowl game jump. Mirabal felt Brooks and Selby could provide an early punch, and they didn’t disappoint him.
“You could see the strength and the size difference those two brought to the running game and the benefit of it,” Mirabal said. “We thought that Maryland had a pretty good defensive front, so we wanted to make sure that we’d get these guys in there, even though they hadn’t played a lot toward the latter part of the season.
“Let’s get them in there and try to get their size, their physicalness and their nastiness in and get it going,” he added.
With Selby and Brooks’ help, the Herd rolled up 475 yards of total offense in that 31-20 win, Marshall’s second bowl win in three seasons. Brooks, a South Charleston High graduate and the 2009 Hunt Award winner as West Virginia’s best high school lineman, said that experience has provided even more motivation for him and Selby entering this spring.
“Now, I just eat, breathe (football),” Brooks said. “I always have, but now it’s more meeting times, more film, especially trying to get my body right, taking more ice baths and getting my body ready before practice. You’ve got to have some healthy lungs and your body’s got to be healthy, too.”
Mirabal said Brooks’ development at left guard and Selby’s development at right guard pays off for Marshall in a number of ways. It allowed Mirabal to move Johansson from left guard to left tackle, where he feels the Sweden native can thrive. It also kept Marshall from being forced to recruit a junior college tackle for immediate help and focus on recruiting prep school and high school linemen coaches can develop.
Yet Selby, a Conference USA all-freshman team member last season, isn’t taking his new role for granted. Neither is Brooks. Both say that, now that they’re running with the first string, they don’t want the view to change.
“I’ve just got to keep working,” Selby said. “And it’s going to feel good if all this hard work pays off when the season starts. I’m going to just keep working so I can get in that first line at the start of the season.
“It’s just motivated me to get into the starting lineup,” he said. “I don’t want to rotate in and out. I want that starting job.”
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KICKER KAARE VEDVIK has been pulling double duty for the Herd in the first two days of spring practice. Not only has he worked with special teams, booming a long field goal at the start of Thursday’s practice, he’s also run a little bit at reserve wide receiver.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Holliday said of the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Norway native, who played high school football at McPherson High in Kansas. “He was a great soccer player. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, but he looks great running around out there.
“We’re experimenting with it a little bit to see what he can do,” Holliday added, “but he’s got some skills, now.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.