After its most difficult season in nearly a decade, it became clear Marshall needed immediate, athletic help at many positions.
As the mid-year junior-college signing period begins Wednesday, such help may be on the way. The Thundering Herd is expected sign as many as four juco standouts to binding letters of intent.
Two of those played in the California juco circuit, one is a Florida native who played in Iowa and the other is a Georgia native who played in Kansas.
To hear their juco coaches talk — they’re biased, of course — they just might be playmakers the MU programs need.
Armani Levias stands out in that group because of stature, at the least. He is a big tight end from Laney College in Oakland, California, who was once a pocket-passing prospect in high school.
That was when he was 215 pounds.
“He’s a difference-maker because he’s 6-5, 250 pounds and can move,” said Laney coach John Beam. “He’s got really good hands — most of his catches are for touchdowns because when we get in the red zone, he creates a lot of mismatches. And he’s learning to become a physical blocker.”
Levias hails from of Pittsburg, California, not far east from Oakland. He would follow the footsteps of Laney alums Chuck Walker and Troy Evans, both Herd wide receivers.
In the Fresno area, Artis Johnson wasn’t cheated out of playing time at Reedley College. He played strong safety, but did so much more.
His coach says he won’t sign Wednesday, but expects the Texas native to do so later in the period, which lasts through Jan. 17. Johnson redshirted after an injury his first season, so he would have two years to play two at Marshall.
“He was our strong safety, outside linebacker and also our ‘wildcat’ quarterback,” said coach Eric Marty. “He returned kicks, he did it all.
“He’s 6-1, 210 or 215 and looks the part. He’s explosive and changes directions well. He’s going to bring a lot of versatility as far as the ability to play field safety, or roll down into that outside linebacker position. He’s one of the best athletes on our team.”
The Herd could be picking up a quick slot receiver in Marcel Williams. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound native of Bunnell, Florida, played at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa City, Iowa.
His 2016 season was cut short by an injury to his thumb, for which he had surgery. His coach, Jesse Montalto, expects Williams to be full-go next month.
“He’s a very good football player, smart player. He actually played both ways for us a freshman,” Montalto said. “But he’s explosive. He’s as fast a kid as you’ll find at this level. He ran good times this summer; I think he ran as low as a 4.41 [40-yard dash].”
The fourth reported juco commitment is cornerback Kereon Merrell, a native of Vienna, Georgia, who played at Dodge City Community College in Kansas. It is not clear when he will sign.
Those who sign this week are expected to begin classes at Marshall in January and participate in spring practice.