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Grant Traylor: Curraj cures kickoff troubles

Sep. 02, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall kickoff specialist Amoreto Curraj didn't understand why everyone was so excited each time he came off the field following a kick during Saturday's 52-14 win over Miami.

To him, it was nothing major.

Curraj was lining up and booting the ball down-field in spots where Miami was unable to set up a return.

With touchbacks, the contact should be minimal, but that was not the case.

Instead, it was Curraj taking all the physical punishment as he trotted back to the sidelines, only to have his helmet rocked by the defense in congratulatory fashion.

"Everybody was slapping me," Curraj said. "I'm talking, my neck is sore, to be honest with you. They're hitting me and all this. My neck is going left, right. But it's a great feeling."

Pardon the defense and Marshall's special teams unit if they are a little excited at the sight of touchbacks.

It isn't something they witnessed very often last year.

According to Marshall's 2012 season statistics, the Herd had six kickoffs for touchbacks in 2012. Media members in the pressbox could only remember three that reached the end zone on the fly and one of those was a penalty-aided kick that came from the 50-yard line.

Curraj matched the entire 2012 season output in his first collegiate game with six of his eight kickoffs going for touchbacks.

The other two included his first, which had good hang time and landed at the 2-yard line, and one that was taken a yard deep in the end zone and returned to the 15-yard line.

Curraj (pronounced Curry, like Vinny) said he was not aware of the exact 2012 situation heading into his first game.

"It's eye-opening, you know? I can't believe I'm here and I already broke their record (2012 stats)," Curraj said. "I told the coaches when I came, I'm trying to lead the nation in touchbacks. If I can do that, it's helping out the team and helping everyone out. That's what I came here for."

To put things in a bit of perspective, Marshall kickoffs averaged 56.4 yards per kick last season. Given that a kicker normally kicks from the 35-yard line, that means most of Marshall's kickoffs were landing at the 9-yard line, which gave the opposition a chance for a return.

The average starting field position for Marshall opponents in 2012 was the 31-yard line.

On Saturday evening, it was the 23.6-yard line.

It might just seem like eight yards, but that's another first down a team has to get and, with kickoffs being one of the game's more taxing and violent scenarios, it means one less play that the coverage unit has to go full tilt to bring down a return man.

"I'm glad I could give them some kickoffs and get touchbacks, so they didn't have to run as much and help them out," Curraj said.

That lack of violent collisions on kickoff coverage is part of the reason why Curraj got a violent celebration on his way back to the sidelines.

And with Marshall's offense scoring at the pace from last year, Curraj could easily lead the nation in touchbacks, given the chance.

While that's his goal, it wasn't his focus following the Herd's 52-14 win on Saturday.

"I'm more happy that I could make the team happy than anything," Curraj said. "That's what I'm here for. I'm going to be with these guys for four years."

SUSTAINING THE RUN: In 2012, Marshall featured one of the most prolific passing attacks in the nation.

Yet, the team's greatest success came when the Herd ground game was seeing success.

That factor was not lost on Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg on Saturday.

Despite trailing 7-0 and not getting a first down in the first quarter, Legg continued to emphasize the Herd ground game in the second quarter.

At one point, Marshall ran the ball on 15 consecutive plays over the span of two drives -- both of which went for touchdowns.

The first run was not by design -- it was a 15-yard scramble by Cato on a 3rd-and-8. However, the next six plays were all runs to cap the first scoring drive with a 1-yard score by Essray Taliaferro.

On the next drive, there was a steady diet of Steward Butler and Cato, too.

The first eight plays were on the ground with two being Cato scrambles on broken-down pass plays.

Overall, the 15 consecutive run plays logged 125 yards on the ground -- an average of 8.3 yards per carry.

Grant Traylor covers Marshall football for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by E-mail at gtraylor@herald-dispatch.com or by phone at (304) 526-2860. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).

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