HUNTINGTON — By this point, Marshall University football coaches are used to seeing a player with a number 8 on his jersey on the outside making numerous plays in the passing game for the Thundering Herd.
This preseason, however, the coaches are having to do a double-take to see who it is.
That’s because there is a No. 80 (freshman Naquan Renalds) who has joined No. 8 (senior Preseason All-Conference USA selection Tyre Brady) making eye-opening catches in practices.
“The Renalds kid is a freshman that is playing really well right now,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “I’m not going to say he’s Tyre Brady, but he’s got strong hands similar to Brady and he’s got a good skill set and he’s tough. He likes to play and he’s fun to watch.”
Renalds signed with Marshall in the Class of 2017 and sat out last season as an academic non-qualifier.
The product of Winter Garden, Florida, did not sit idly by during his season of focusing on academic progress. Renalds also went to work in the weight room and improved
his strength, preparing for the 2018 season when he would be able to get on the field.
After signing as a 180-pound prospect, Renalds took the field at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds when the Herd opened preseason camp.
And that strength has shown on several occasions.
Earlier this week, Renalds took off on a route over the middle and snagged a pass between defenders on a slant that went for a hard-earned first down in the team portion of practice.
Renalds has also proven his ability to win one-on-one battles on the outside during individual drills and team portions alike. Each day, it seems as though the youngster is coming up with a catch or two that has everyone taking notice.
Marshall wide receivers coach Dallas Baker said Renalds’ fast adjustment to NCAA Division I football is the product of the selflessness of his position room.
“I have to give credit to the whole wide receiver corps,” Baker said. “I love this whole room. It goes back to in the summertime and even now during camp when we have breaks. All the receivers have put their arms around this kid — all the way from Tyre to Stone Scarcelle — to help him learn and study plays.”
Renalds’ potential was not in question when he signed with the Herd. Coming out of West Orange High School, he had offers from Kentucky, Syracuse, South Florida and Conference USA foe Florida Atlantic while also drawing interest from Michigan and Tennessee.
Renalds was ranked No. 17 in the Orlando Sentinel’s Super 60 prior to his senior season, but a suspension kept him off the field and several college programs backed off.
Holliday stayed with him and Renalds committed to Marshall on the final recruiting weekend prior to National Signing Day in 2017.
Since coming to Marshall, the nurturing of all involved — from strength staff to coaches to players — has helped Renalds mature quickly.
Now, Holliday is enjoying watching the young prospect grow into another talented target for the receiving corps.