HUNTINGTON — In the moment in the 2013 preseason when Marshall corner Keith Baxter hurt his shoulder, it was obvious the injury was painful. What stung even worse for him was that torn labrum robbed him of that 2013 season.
He’s been kept out of full contact this spring, but Baxter has been on the field otherwise, trying to find his spot in what has become a talent-rich secondary.
“It hurt pretty bad,” Baxter said. “It was a bad play for me, but now that (the shoulder) is fixed, I’m ready to go.”
The redshirt junior was relegated to spectator status last season, spending much of that time with his right arm in a sling. He watched Marshall’s secondary help cut down opponents’ passing yards per game from 253.5 in 2012 to 208.1 in 2013, plus double its interception total from nine to 18.
It disappointed him that he couldn’t be part of Marshall’s defensive resurgence, especially when injuries throughout the secondary took their toll in 2012 and it showed both on the stat sheet and the scoreboard.
“Probably the only person who was healthy in 2012 was Derrick Thomas,” Baxter said. “Me and (Monterius Lovett), I was playing with one arm, he was playing on one leg. It was miserable for me.
“I’m ready,” he said of this spring. “That’s what I wanted to do, just take that whole year and rest up my body. I got surgery in October and, ever since then, I’ve been rehabbing. I’m going to continue to do what they’re telling me to do, and I’m ready to go.”
Baxter re-enters a secondary that now has 2013 Conference USA co-freshman of the year Corey Tindal working at both corner and nickel, Darryl Roberts returning following a strong season, plus Virginia Tech transfer Donaldven Manning and sophomore Michael Johnson in the mix. Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said Baxter has the size (5-foot-11 and 196 pounds) and ability to become a key contributor.
“I think he’ll be a really good player,” Heater said. “He’s strong. He’s got skills. He just hasn’t played a lot of football. Yet he does some things pretty well, does some things pretty naturally. He’s kind of a bigger, stronger guy out there.”
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A NEW FACE has emerged in the Thundering Herd running back corps’ race for carries — redshirt junior Assani Mudimbi.
Mudimbi, from Takoma Park, Md., sat out last year after transferring from Rhode Island, where he spent two seasons as a running back. A Washington Post all-region running back at Montgomery Blair High School, he played sparingly at Rhode Island, carring 55 times for 150 yards in 14 games over two seasons.
This spring, he’s received plenty of opportunities. During the scrimmage sessions in last Saturday’s practice, he was the second running back to carry ball behind Kevin Grooms.
“It feels good to get reps,” he said. “I just want to get better like everybody else. I’m trying to maximize every rep.”
Listed at 5-10 and 189 pounds, Mudimbi hopes he can become the change-of-pace back to complement smaller speedsters like Grooms and Steward Butler. Marshall coach Doc Holliday said he’s like to see Mudimbi contribute in some way.
“He’s a guy that works extremely hard,” Holliday said. “He’s got to find a place somewhere, special teams or somewhere. He’s very willing and has got some talent. He’s got to get on a special team and show us he can play. Maybe if he does, we can get the ball in his hands.”
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SATURDAY’S SCRIMMAGE begins at 1:30 p.m., and will be open to Big Green members and Marshall students. Those who want to attend can enter at Gate A on the west side of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Big Green members will be asked to present their membership card and students will be asked to present a valid university ID. Big Green staff will be at Gate A on Saturday for anyone wishing to join. Gate A will open a half-hour prior to the scrimmage’s start.
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.