Oct. 2, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Joe Massaquoi has ties to a pair of renowned football flicks. Now, he’s started to play a bigger role in Marshall game films.
Massaquoi, a redshirt sophomore defensive end, has moved into the Thundering Herd’s nine-man rotation on the defensive front. He was a grayshirt and then a redshirt, but the 6-foot-5, 261-pounder seems primed for a starring role in the future.
Massaquoi was in the same Herd signing class as stars Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler. He even took his official visit to Marshall on the same weekend as the pair from Miami. However, Massaquoi didn’t report until the January after Cato and Shuler had played their freshman season in 2011.
He was a lanky and skinny prospect from Alexandria, Va., and T.C. Williams, the high school that became known in theatres for "Remember the Titans."
It wasn’t lost on him that he was joining another program with a cinematic history … "We Are Marshall."
"When I first got here," Massaquoi said with a grin earlier this week, "everyone would make fun and say, ‘Joe, you went from one school with a movie to another one with a movie,’ so that was pretty funny.
"Everybody always talks about that. They’d meet me and say, ‘Are you Joe Massaquoi from T.C. Williams? The Titans?’ I tell them yeah. ‘Are you guys still as good as they were?’ Uh, not really, but it was close. ‘Remember the Titans’ was the ‘70s, a long time before I was born."
As the Herd (4-0, 0-0) heads back to Massaquoi’s home state for a Conference USA opener Saturday at Old Dominion (3-2, 1-1), Massaquoi is getting plenty of reps at strongside end, backing up redshirt senior Ra’Shawde Myers.
Massaquoi has played 94 snaps in four games, and his two sacks share the team lead with senior rush end Arnold Blackmon. The redshirt sophomore also has forced a fumble, made a quarterback hurry and broken up a pass.
"It started happening for me this spring," said Massaquoi, who redshirted in 2012 and then played in only three one-sided games (Gardner-Webb, UAB, East Carolina) last season. "I felt like I started to come into my own in the spring, being able to understand the playbook better, the scheme.
"My first couple of years, I used to think a lot on the field, so I wasn’t able to react and go 100 percent. But now I feel like I know the playbook and I’m able to play without thinking and go make plays on the field."
He also needed to grow. He was his current 6-5 when he arrived at Marshall, but he weighed only 217. Some 40-plus pounds later, the 21-year-old Massaquoi is emerging as the kind of player Coach Doc Holliday and his staff hoped they’d see.
"He’s made tremendous progress," Marshall defensive ends coach Sean Cronin said after Tuesday’s practice. "Joe is a prototype strongside defensive end. He is long and in a day and age when they pretty much allow holding – we don’t even want to talk about holding in our room because it’s every play – you can’t hold Joe. He’s got 7-foot arms (wingspan). As long as he gets locked out, there’s no holding him.
"There are exceptions to every rule, but in a very general sense, we prefer long ends for that reason. And he is the prototype -- as long as we have -- and he’s athletic enough to be a D-end, which is a combination that’s really hard to find."
Massaquoi’s confidence got a boost with his spring practice play, and he said that being in a rotation with veteran players and on the field with experienced tackles like James Rouse and Jarquez Samuel has enabled him to prosper, too
"It was probably the last week of spring practice, on the Thursday (before the Green-White spring game)," Massaquoi said when asked when he had an inkling his 2014 might be different from 2012 and ’13. "I had a good practice and at the end Coach (Chuck) Heater (defensive coordinator) called me out during the team meeting out in the center of the field and said how good a practice I had. From then on, I kind of felt like I’d have a chance to play.
"It helps a whole lot not just rotating in and out so we’re fresh, but when I’m in there -- especially with Rouse and Jarquez -- I feel like if I don’t know something, I can ask them what the play is. And it’s not only asking them that helps.
"Just watching someone like James Rouse, how he works, how he approaches practice every day and goes hard every time he’s in there. I try to emulate him and try be as good a player as he is one day, hopefully."
Massaquoi’s route to Marshall was trying, to say the least. He said the Herd was his second offer, after one from East Carolina following a trip to the Pirates’ camp.
"I was being recruited by a lot of ACC schools and then my senior season, I tore an MCL and missed the whole season," Massaquoi said. "So, a lot of schools that were talking to me backed off a little bit. Marshall was the only one that stuck by me, so I came on my visit after basketball season – when Cato was here the same time – and after that weekend made my decision."
Now, "production" is following two other p’s for Massaquoi – patience and practice.
"When I first got here, I knew I’d have to be patient because I wasn’t physically ready, but to be honest, it was kind of a grind a little bit, being behind all the older guys," Massaquoi said. "But I knew if I were patient it would be my time, and I just concentrated on getting bigger and stronger.
"With work in the weight room and work with the playbook, I knew time would come eventually."
Cronin said Massaquoi is just starting to grasp how good he could be.
"A lot of times you can get guys who are longer like that and they’re more gangly, and it takes them a while to grow into their bodies, if they ever do," Cronin said. "It’s just not as easy to change direction and do the things you need to do when your legs are longer and a lot more things move around.
"Joe is a rare breed in that way, that he’s still super-athletic. He’s really worked hard to get bigger, get stronger, stepped his game up this season.
"He’s in the rotation, but he still has a long way to develop. He’s turned the corner a little bit this year. Joe’s on the right path, and it’s exciting to think how good he can be."