By Bill Cornwell
There are 40 new faces on the fall 2023 Marshall Football roster, with 25 of them being transfers. Players from all over the nation have found a new football home on the Marshall University campus. After nearly three weeks of practices, a few are already showing that they’ll see significant playing time this fall.
One of those transfers catching the eye of the Herd’s defensive coaches is a local project, former Cabell Midland Knight’s All-Stater J.J. Roberts, who transferred from Wake Forest after the 2022 season.
Roberts is a 5-11, 190 redshirt junior defensive back who played in ten of the Demon Deacons’ 13 games last fall. He picked up 20 tackles and 7 pass breakups.
He says he’s happy to compete in practice for a spot on Marshall’s highly-regarded defensive unit.
“The level of competition here is very high, and it’s exciting when I see this happen,” Roberts said. “Sometimes we might have a little drop-off during practice, but we’ve been stacking up plenty of good practices and continue to get better and learn from the mistakes that we make.”
Roberts gets plenty of attention from Marshall fans as a local product, but he says he feels no pressure, and he’s getting plenty of assistance from Head Coach Charles Huff and his staff.
“The coaching staff has made me feel like family since I came in,” Roberts said. “The connection I have with everybody on the team allows me to be comfortable in every situation on the field.”
Another defender who didn’t have to travel far to make a new home at Marshall is former Ohio University Bobcats linebacker Kylen McCracken, a 6-3, 306-pound graduate defensive lineman who joins a Herd defensive front that features preseason All-Sun Belt Conference defensive end Owen Porter and key returnees Sam Burton, Elijah Alston, TyQaze Leggs, and another key transfer, Brandon McElroy, who came from Arizona State.
McCracken is from Cleveland, Ohio, and totaled 31 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack in 25 career games at Ohio University.
He says there was a difference in spring ball in how Ohio and Marshall operate their programs.
“There is a lot more volume here, and it’s way more fast-paced,” McCracken said. “There’s a lot more attention to detail at Marshall, and everybody here has the hunger to win in their eyes.”
Although he left an Ohio program that won the Mid-American Conference East Division last fall, he knows that he’s taken a step up in talent while trying to compete for a job with the Herd.
“There’s talent from the young guys to the old guys,” McCracken said. “I’ve been around a lot of dudes over the years, but there’s something different here because everyone is serious, and the sky’s the limit.”
Coach Huff has been pleased with the early work of a group of receivers that he believes will bring quality play this fall at a position that suffered from postseason defections last winter, including the departure of 2022 leading receiver Corey Gammage.
One of the new faces in the Marshall receivers room is Kentucky Wildcats transfer DeMarcus Harris.
Harris played in all but one of Kentucky’s 13 games last fall, making four catches for 90 yards, including a 58-yarder against Youngstown State. In his UK career, Harris, who hails from Vero Beach, Florida, played in 39 career games with eight starts, catching 30 passes for 327 yards and one touchdown.
He’s reunited at MU with his former position coach at Kentucky, Herd receivers coach, and passing game coordinator Jovon Bouknight.
Harris is happy to work with Bouknight again.
“He’s definitely a technician with his work,” Harris said. “He’s very detailed, and he knows how to get to a higher level, and it helps with him being in the room.”
Marshall will hold its second closed scrimmage of fall practice on Saturday afternoon from 1:45 to 3:45 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.