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Chuck Landon: Kersey is worth the gamble for Herd

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Penn State really doesn't have a satellite campus in Huntington.

And, no, Marshall hasn't altered its name to PSU-Huntington in the same fashion as UT-San Antonio.

But there is an undeniable Penn State presence in Marshall's football program.

That's because three former Nittany Lions have left Unhappy Valley in hopes of rejuvenating their careers with the Thundering Herd.

The list includes cornerback Derrick Thomas, slot receiver/punt returner Devon Smith and, now, wide receiver Shawney Kersey, who has enrolled at Marshall as a graduate student with one year of eligibility, according to Marshall officials.

If Kersey -- a 6-foot-1, 197-pound speedster -- can have the impact that Thomas had last season for Marshall, he will be a most welcome addition.

And there's no reason to think he won't.

Sure, Kersey was disgruntled at Penn State. As a redshirt freshman he missed several practices and reportedly asked for his release so he could transfer to Rutgers to run track. But a week later, Joe Paterno welcomed him back.

Next, interim Penn State coach Tom Bradley started Kersey in three games in 2011, but left him at home when the Nittany Lions went to the TicketCity Bowl game in Dallas. The reason? The sophomore had missed several practices to attend to personal matters.

But Kersey kept bouncing back.

In fact, he made such strides during spring drills in 2012, new coach Bill O'Brien anointed him a big-play receiver and installed Kersey as a starter.

That lasted for only two games.

In losses to Ohio and Virginia, Kersey caught six passes for 44 yards, but, then, left Penn State's program for personal reasons. He did stay in school, however, and graduated with a degree in telecommunications.

So, why should Marshall fans be excited about a guy who has started five games in his collegiate career and has meager totals of 12 catches for 154 yards?

There are two reasons.

No. 1, Kersey fills a need. The Herd has to find a replacement for the graduated Aaron Dobson at the X-receiver position. The only candidates were the inconsistent Demetrius Evans and oft-injured Davonte Allen. Now, Kersey brings experience and marquee athleticism to the position.

No. 2, Kersey has enormous potential. At his size, he ran a personal-best of 10.49 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.7 in the 200. His best 40-yard dash time is 4.47 seconds. In other words, he's a legitimate deep threat who can stretch the field for Marshall's potent underneath passing game.

Kersey's upside is off the charts.

Why, as a junior at Woodbury (N.J.) High School, Kersey returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and three punts for TDs. That's why he had scholarship offers from WVU, Cincinnati, Iowa, Michigan State, Rutgers, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Does that mean his problems at Penn State aren't a red flag? Of course not. But maybe Kersey just needed a change of scenery. Usually, when an outstanding athlete gets one last chance to fulfill his potential, he will live at the foot of the cross to make it happen.

Thomas is a prime example. He had baggage at Penn State, too, but started eight of 12 games for Marshall last season and ended up as the Herd's best cornerback.

Why, I wouldn't be surprised if all three Penn State transfers aren't in MU's starting lineup next season.

As for Kersey, if a school is going to gamble on a transfer, he'd better be a tremendous athlete.

Kersey is.

That's why he's worth this gamble.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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