HUNTINGTON – Ask Marshall football coaches to name a few players who have opened eyes since last season, and near the top of the list is a weighty subject.
It’s Josh Lovell, who almost exactly a year ago had burst onto the top line of the Thundering Herd depth chart as a redshirt freshman at right tackle, before falling into a backup role by the time the season started.
Lovell was a 265-pound prep school (Christchurch School) tight end from Gloucester, Va., when he signed with Marshall in February 2010. Now, he carries 302 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, and if he can produce on the field as he has in conditioning, he will be a truly big man on campus. Lovell appears in line for the Herd’s starting right guard spot.
In the Dunfee Weight Room aside Edwards Stadium, Lovell is being compared to former Herd all-conference center and Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Doug Legursky.
“Midway through last season I just blew up in weight room,” said Lovell, who with his teammates gets into full gear for the first time this preseason with Friday’s practice. “I started doing really well in there, and I started to gain weight and strength. I got to 310 (pounds) this summer after being about 280 last summer, and I haven’t really gained too much fat.
“I figure anywhere from 295-305 is good for me, right around 300. I don’t want to be so heavy I can’t move.”
Lovell knew his tight end days were over when he arrived at Marshall. He had no dreams of being the next Lee Smith, the Herd’s erstwhile tight end now with the NFL Buffalo Bills.
“Coming from prep school, I knew I wasn’t playing tight end,” he said. “I was thinking I might be a tackle and I was, but the way my weight has gone, I know we’re trying to put our strongest people inside so I mean it just makes sense for me to move down. “I’m happy with it. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with guard than I was at tackle. I really do like the move.”
To get some idea how Lovell’s potential performance has risen, consider that heading into his true freshman season, he was at 282 pounds and ran a 5.20 in the 40-yard dash. Now, he’s at 302 and runs a 4.98. He could do 13 repetitions at 225 pounds two years ago. Now, he’s reached 29 of those reps.
“Josh is physically everything you want in an offensive lineman,” said Joe Miday, Marshall’s head strength and conditioning coach. “He’s the one guy on this team I stand behind, pads on, pads off, and say, ‘Hey, that’s a big guy.
“He’s got well-developed shoulders, traps, and at 305 pounds he can run a sub-5.0 40. He’s got physicality, he’s accountable, players look up to him. Yeah, he’s potentially an NFL player, but you’ve got to transfer that over.
“He’s a 600-pound squat guy, a 400 pound bench guy. Since I’ve been here (this is Miday’s sixth season at MU, but first as the strength room chief), Doug Legursky is that guy, the only guy. That’s the guy you compare him to.”
Miday pointed out that his assistant, former Marshall linebacker Scott Wilks, was a Legursky teammate
“Scott and I see Lovell as a taller Doug,” Miday said. “I’ve already heard a couple of freshmen lineman say when Josh gets a hold of you, it’s over. He’s that strong. He’s everything you look for in an offensive lineman.”
What Herd offensive line coach Geep Wade wants to see from Lovell is better technique and dedication to the fundamentals. That’s a mantra on an offensive line that has increased depth – 16 scholarship players – but is considered by most observers as the Herd’s 2012 question mark.
Lovell said Wade’s focus is the reason he didn’t keep a starting job he might have won a year ago.
“Fundamentals really were the reason I fell back (on the depth chart),” Lovell said. “I moved up during scrimmages after being graded out and then fundamentally, I just lost it.
“That’s where I’m really trying to get stronger. I know I can do it, so when I don’t I make it harder on myself than it needs to be. I need to use the right footwork, keep my hands where they’re supposed to be. Then, the easier it is to block and the easier the plays become.
“Fundamentals, that’s what we need to practice most as a group, footwork and things. It’s been an issue in the past, and Geep’s mentioned that, stressed that. You make it as best as you can, get better, get comfortable with it, because you need to do it.”
After playing last season mostly on special teams – he was the No. 2 right tackle (behind then-senior C.J. Wood) for most of the 2011 season -- Lovell seems primed for success on a unit that has grown in depth and talent, but one considered by most observers to be the measuring stick for how much success the Herd can have.
Lovell doesn’t disagree with that, and says the questions about the offensive line are a driving force for Wade’s bunch.
“It is a challenge,” Lovell said. “We know people, well, just say we haven’t been praised as the best on the team in the past, so we really do take as challenge so we’re trying to become the leaders, be a dominant force.
“We want people to respect us; you have to earn it. We want people to be afraid of us when they come here, so we’re really just working on that.”
After a recruiting emphasis on offensive linemen, Coach Doc Holliday’s program has the numbers it wants up front, but nowhere near the experience desired. However, Lovell said there’s a driving force that will help the Herd big ‘uns.
“Competition is the best thing you can have,” the redshirt sophomore said. “When you have to compete for a certain spot, everyone tries harder. It makes the younger kids try harder, because they’re trying to move up. And the older guys are trying to keep their positions. Competition keeps people on their toes.
“It’s getting much more competitive out here with more people. We’re getting really deep at some positions, and there are a lot of people that can play.
“So, we can throw 3-4 people around at any position now and feel pretty comfortable. It’s a lot harder, because someone from the other side of the line could come over to left side or right side and be comfortable there and take a spot.
“You’ve got to work hard every day.”