Walk-on and be Herd
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University linebacker Chase Hancock made it a point to get to know the name of every player on the defensive side of the football in the first few days of preseason camp.
Normally, that doesn’t seem like a big deal.
But to Hancock? It’s everything.
The senior leader of the Thundering Herd remembers a time when he walked onto the Marshall program and the field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium without a scholarship and no one knew who he was.
“Coach, sometimes he doesn’t even know the walk-on’s name,” Hancock said. “They make a play on the field and they (coaches) point them out and it’s like, ‘I know you now.’ They start giving them props and let them get more reps and recognition.”
Hancock’s path is well-versed as a walk-on from Beckley, who came to Huntington with no fanfare at all.
“I didn’t have any stars,” Hancock said, speaking of his recruitment. “When I hear that so-and-so is a three-star or four-star (recruit), I don’t care about that. I didn’t have any stars. It doesn’t matter. When we get here, we’re all good and we were all stars at our high schools. Now, it’s time for you to show out.”
Hancock is one of many within Marshall head coach Doc Holliday’s tenure who have been walk-on players that turned into starters and team leaders.
It started in Holliday’s first year when he brought on walkon Chris Jasperse, who ended up playing in a team-record 53 games as a four-year starter for the team. The offensive line walk-on train continued with Clint Van Horn -- a Beckley native like Hancock -- becoming a three-year starter and team leader.
Other notable walk-ons into the program included defensive end Alex Bazzie and running back Essray Taliaferro.
Holliday said the key was for his staff to identify potential contributors while out recruiting — whether on the road or through the university’s summer camps — and building those players once they get on campus.
“A lot of these guys, they are just undeveloped kids,” Holliday said. “I think the one thing we have done here, is we’ve done a good job of developing players through our weight program.”
Hancock is one of several players on the 2018 team who have gone from walk-on to prominent roles through that skill development and weight training.
Marshall’s top two tacklers from the 2017 season were both former walk-ons -- Hancock with 137 and safety Malik Gant with 100. Both Hancock and Gant were Preseason All-Conference USA selections. Gant is also on the 2018 Thorpe Award watch list, given to the nation’s top defensive back.
The likelihood is Marshall will have three starting defenders who went from walk-on to starter with safety Nazeeh Johnson also entering the equation this fall after being awarded a scholarship following the spring.
Hancock said they all have one thing in common — being consistent and doing things the right way.
That means going to every team meeting or meal and making sure attendance is there in every class, so that coaches are not calling to check on the walk-on’s whereabouts.
Then, when on the field, it’s on the walk-on to take care of business and make a name for themselves.
“That’s how it started with me,” Hancock said. “I made a name on the special teams and the scout team, and I try to encourage every walk-on to do that. I’ll talk to them and say, ‘It’s okay. It’s hard right now, but it will pay off in the end if you stick with it and you work.’
“Especially if they are on scout team going hard, you can see that potential before they go on scholarship and even before they actually start playing. I get excited because I’ve got a lot of respect for walk-ons. Any walk-on, anywhere, you’ve got my respect because I’ve been through it already. When you’re here and you’re struggling, I can vouch for you because I’ve been through it.”
The fun for Hancock now is he gets a bird’s eye view of the incoming talent walking on to the program and gets to see who has the potential to make that next step.
One player he has seen early in the preseason that has gone about things the right way is running back Mookie Collier from Bluefield, winner of the the 2017 Kennedy Award given to West Virginia’s top high school player.
Collier is a scout-team running back right now, but Hancock said his demeanor has been impressive.
“He’s got his head on straight and I think he’s going to be really good,” Hancock said. “Once he hits that weight room, gets some weight on him and gets a feel for how things go, I think he’s got a lot of potential. I’m excited for him.”
Whether it is Holliday or Hancock, eyes will be on the walk-on players to see what guys can bring something to the program from a skill and leadership standpoint.
The hope for Holliday is the trend continues of finding unknowns and turning them into household names.