Trey Rodriguez knows Marshall can run for more than 3.28 yards per game, and he plans to do something about it.
The Thundering Herd’s other scholarship newcomer at running back, Tyler King, also looks as if he can help right Marshall’s ground game, which was 122nd in the nation a year ago. Together, they are among the attention-catchers after four days of preseason camp.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Rodriguez has been there before, actually playing against Marshall while a Florida Atlantic Owl. In a way, the Herd recruited him during its 33-17 victory in Boca Raton in 2015.
Then a freshman, the Daytona Beach, Florida, native rushed for 72 yards on 16 carries with a third-quarter touchdown, but didn’t have a run longer than 10 yards. He had to earn every inch.
“The first time I got the ball, I was like ‘OK, Marshall has a great defense, them boys, they’re coming down pretty hard,” he said. “I noticed that, ended up leaving [FAU], and when I had the opportunity, ‘They have good defense, get us on the field, and I can help the offense.’”
Rodriguez ran for 419 yards in just six games with a team-high five touchdowns, but was dismissed in April 2016 for a violation of team rules. After playing the 2016 season at Arizona Western Community College, he found this recruiting process rockier than his first one.
In a show of faith, coach Doc Holliday brought Rodriguez to Huntington.
“It was pretty dark for a while,” Rodriguez said. “As I was getting recruited, a lot of coaches came in and [said], ‘You’re good enough, but I don’t know if I can take you’ because I had such and such. Once I got that call from coach Doc, I was happy I had an opportunity to restart my journey.”
As he is splitting first-team reps with Keion Davis, Rodriguez is raising some eyebrows with a few long runs. He looks as if he has done this before and, by several accounts, he is showing the leadership and willingness to be coached that is required of a junior.
“He’s a ‘one-time guy.’ You only tell him one time and he’ll get it,” said position coach Pepe Pearson. “You combine that with his athleticism, you’ve got something special there. He can be a very versatile guy for us — running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield, punt return, kick return.”
King was signed out of Fort Meade, Florida, where he rushed for 1,607 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior. He sat out 2016 to become eligible, and you always have to wonder how quickly someone in that situation can pick up the nuances of the college game.
Some far, really good. King has reeled off some long runs in the early days of camp.
“He sat out a year and a half, you kind of expect them to be rusty,” Pearson said. “But he came in, he’s made some runs, he’s done some things that you’re like, ‘Wow!’ Rust or not, this guy has potential.
“It’s my job to coach him up and teach him the fundamentals and techniques of the position, and from there, his athletic ability is going to fly away.”
If Rodriguez and King pan out, that could bury Anthony Anderson and Tony Pittman on the depth chart. But Davis, the junior who led the Herd with 469 yards and six TDs last year, has shown he’s up to the challenge from the newcomers.
“Keion, he’s had his ups and down,” Pearson said. “But he definitely progressed; he had a great spring, and the beginning of camp has been great. I’m pleased with Keion.”
n Those backs will get their first taste of full contact when the Herd works out in full pads for the first time. Practice begins at 3:20 p.m. every day this week.