HUNTINGTON — Marshall fifth-year senior center Chris Jasperse should feel pretty secure about his status as a member of the starting lineup. A returning all-Conference USA first team lineman like him should.
Already considered the conference’s top center, the 6-foot-4, 287-pounder doesn’t have much to prove to Thundering Herd coaches. Yet he refuses to coast through the spring session. In his mind, there’s plenty to prove, at least to himself.
“Sometimes I’ll make a block and there’ll be something fundamentally wrong with it,” Jasperse said. “I’m just trying to work on the little things to get better.”
He graded out last season among Marshall’s offensive linemen as the best in many categories. He played the most snaps (1,067) of any lineman on the roster and his 86-percent success rate topped the group. He led the team with 79 knockdown blocks, with graduated senior tackle Garrett Scott next with 56.
Through those 1,067 snaps, Jasperse allowed just one sack. Both C-USA’s coaches and college football expert Phil Steele named Jasperse their all-conference first-team center. Marshall coach Doc Holliday said he just wants to see Jasperse keep up the good work as an anchor on the offensive line and a mentor to the other linemen.
“He’s providing great leadership,” Holliday said. “He’s a coach on the field. He’s taken Selby and a lot of those offensive linemen under his wing. He’s done a tremendous job and it’s really a credit to him and the kind of kid he is.”
A captain in eight of Marshall’s 14 games last season, Jasperse takes his leadership role seriously. On top of improving his own performance, he also wants to improve the cohesiveness of a line with plenty of new pieces. Michael Selby and former South Charleston star Blake Brooks have become the starting guards. Sebastian Johansson, who started last season at left guard, has moved to left tackle. Only Jasperse and right tackle Clint Van Horn returns in the starting role he held last season.
With as much movement as there has been on the offensive line, Jasperse said the players have done well in becoming a united front, and their willingness to get physical has played a big part in that.
“It’s gone really good,” he said. “Better than I expected, actually. The guys we’ve got right now really love ball and they’re getting after it. The tenacity those guys bring up front is just phenomenal.
“And the way they finish,” he continued, “we might not always have perfect technique, but we always finish. If you finish, that’ll take care of everything.”
Johansson said it helps when you have a veteran like Jasperse from which to learn.
“Chris does a fantastic job,” Johansson said. “He knows everything that’s going on outside and inside the box. You just have to keep your ears and eyes open.”
Jasperse hasn’t stopped learning. While the other linemen might follow his lead, he isn’t afraid to take pointers from them. During one practice, he noticed the way Van Horn was positioning his hands and wondered why they always were that way.
He watched Van Horn during blocking drills and figured that, if he used his hands in the same manner, his blocking would improve.
With as much skill and experience that Jasperse owns, Marshall coaches have given him a lot of responsibility. Yet, he says, he still practices as if someone is hot on his heels for the starting center job. He never wants there to be a scenario where that becomes true.
“Coach Mirabal gives me the reigns of the offense with protections and everything,” Jasperse said. “But we’re still out there competing. If I get beat out this spring because the guy behind me works, then that’s how it works. I just have to keep working everyday to get better myself and to get us better as a unit.”
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.