Herd linebacker Hernandez grew up near site of MU bowl game
HUNTINGTON — The smile never left the face of Marshall University linebacker Frankie Hernandez when he met with reporters this week in advance of the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, which is Dec. 20 in Tampa, Florida, and puts the Thundering Herd (8-4) football team against the University of South Florida (7-5).
The final game of the fifth-year senior brings him full circle in the sport he’s always loved.
Hernandez is a Largo, Florida, native, which is a short drive from Raymond James Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and venue for the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
Being so close to home is a blessing for Hernandez, but there’s an even greater plot twist that adds some flavor to the bowl game.
When Hernandez looks across the line of scrimmage or across to the other sideline he will be staring at a South Florida team he easily could have been playing for.
“It’s funny because I was committed to South Florida, too,” Hernandez said. “It’s going to be turned up. I’m excited. It’s crazy how it turns out.”
Hernandez didn’t hesitate when talking about how many South Florida players he knows.
“I know someone on every position of the team,” he said with a big smile. “There’s people I grew up with, played with when I was younger in high school over there. It’s going to be one of them games.”
Hernandez has made his senior year one to remember, placing third on the team in tackles with 69 while adding 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks.
In the ’Mission: Takeaway” goals of Marshall defensive coordinator Adam Fuller, Hernandez also has the distinction of being the only Marshall player to account for a turnover in three different ways: forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and securing an interception. Hernandez has three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception.
Ironically, the first bowl game Hernandez played in with the Herd also came close to home in 2015 when Marshall played in the St. Petersburg (Florida) Bowl against UConn and earned a 16-10 win. He was on the team in 2014 when the Herd played in the Boca (Florida) Raton Bowl, but sat out the season as a redshirt.
Hernandez is not the only Herd player who grew up within close proximity of the bowl venue, either.
Safety Brandon Drayton is also from Largo, and Hernandez said as soon as the bowl matchup came out, they texted back and forth to discuss the opportunity.
Marshall was off from practice early this week and the coaches were on the recruiting trail, so the goal of Hernandez and Drayton was to drum up as many tickets for their large contingent of friends and family as possible.
“Drayton was like, ‘Man, this stuff is crazy’ and people are calling me like, ‘Frank, let me get tickets,’” Hernandez said. “I’ve just been telling those guys (teammates), if they don’t have someone going, I need those tickets. We’ll get that all figured out. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get this win.”
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound senior linebacker stressed the final part of that statement on several occasions.
While Hernandez wants everyone from his hometown to enjoy his final game in a Marshall uniform, he said there is no way he’s going to let it become a distraction.
“Period,” Hernandez said. “It’s a bowl game, I’m at home with family and it’s cool, but we are still trying to get this win. Definitely for our last game here as a part of Marshall’s team, we want this win bad.”
Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5)
8 p.m. Dec. 20, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM