Chuck Landon: Aiken has had enough of playing for Herd
There was an attempt to sweep the departure of Marques Aiken under the rug.
Clumsy and ham-handed, perhaps, but an attempt just the same.
Why else did Marshall wait until March 25, the very day before spring practice was scheduled to begin, to leak the information that Aiken was graduating early and wasn't returning for his senior year of eligibility?
Marshall's officials did their very best to downplay Aiken's departure.
That's why Marshall didn't even write a release on a two-year starter at defensive tackle leaving. Instead, the news was buried 16 paragraphs deep in a "feel-good" story on Herdzone.com about the start of spring practice.
The story didn't even include Aiken's statistics from 2011 and 2012.
Talk about trying to keep it low-key.
The working media was informed by way of an email containing excerpts from Marshall's web site story. And there was plenty of shoulder shrugging from various Herd officials.
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday dismissed Aiken's departure as "a choice he's made." Other sources inferred Aiken didn't want to meet workout requirements in the off-season strength and conditioning program.
Suspiciously, nobody seemed to want to talk about the startling news that a two-year starter had decided not to finish his career at Marshall. And even more curiously, no one wanted to admit what a huge loss it was.
But whether Marshall is willing to admit it or not, losing Aiken seriously impacts the defensive line.
After all, Aiken was one of very few bright spots for Marshall's beleaguered defense last season. The junior made 37 tackles, had 6.5 tackles for loss including two sacks, was credited with four quarterback hurries, forced a fumble and blocked two kicks.
And remember what Aiken did as a sophomore? After being ruled out for the season early in the 2011 campaign due to a hernia, Aiken got a second opinion. He was told if he could withstand the pain, he could play.
So he did.
Did he ever.
Aiken helped Marshall advance to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl by making 39 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss including one sack, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups. And as a result of those efforts, Aiken suffered a second hernia. Both hernias required off-season surgery.
That's how much heart and determination he displayed. That's how much Aiken was willing to give to the football program.
And this is the same player who doesn't want to be at Marshall for his senior season? This is the same player that Marshall's officials would have us believe is no big loss?
It just doesn't smell right.
"I don't know what it's all about," said Brandon Sparrow, who started beside Aiken last season at the other defensive tackle position. "I haven't talked to him. I hope he's all right."
Meanwhile, senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor was giving Aiken his just due by saying, "We're going to miss him."
That's when the other shoe dropped.
Sources revealed Aiken was planning to enroll in summer school at the University of Cincinnati and play his senior year for the Bearcats. Add the fact that Aiken will be reunited with UC defensive tackle coach Fred Tate, who coached Aiken at Marshall in 2011, and most of the pieces of this puzzle fall in place.
Most, but not all. It still doesn't explain why Marshall handled the situation the way it did.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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