Call him Coach Wingate
HUNTINGTON -- Coach walks around with the playbook in his hand, occasionally shouting instructions and giving encouragement.
Dressed like the rest of the staff, Coach wears a Marshall sweatshirt with a Marshall hat with green Nike sweatpants.
This spring, Coach plays the part of secondary assistant. Last fall, he played the part of Marshall defensive back.
Welcome to D.J. Wingate's new career.
"The season ended last year and I didn't think about it," said Wingate, who recorded 45 career tackles and broke up 13 passes as a member of the Thundering Herd. "It didn't hit until we got back from (Christmas) break. I knew spring ball would be coming up and I was like, 'I just can't sit home. I can't sit home knowing some of the guys in the secondary are so young. We only have two upperclassmen coming back. I know they could use the extra help.'"
Defensive coordinator Chris Rippon was aware of Wingate's urge to return to the football field and went seeking his assistance.
Wingate didn't hesitate with a response.
"Would you like to hang around?" Rippon asked. "We could certainly use you around. ... And he went right in it."
So when Wingate emerged from the locker room last Tuesday for the start of spring practice with a whistle around his neck instead of a helmet on his head, the Daytona Beach, Fla., native showed no uneasiness.
Sure, five months prior he had shared corner reps with Rashad Jackson and Monterius Lovett. And it was just last fall when he competed in the same defensive backfield with safeties Omar and Donald Brown.
Naturally, there could be some awkwardness. A guy goes from playing with you to coaching you -- that's a transition that could take time getting used to.
But with instructor Wingate and his new set of students, it didn't take long.
"Even though I played with him last year, I give him that respect as a coach," Lovett said. "I think he's a really good coach. He helps us a lot. ... He watches a lot of film. If we need help, he'll go in the film room and tell us what we need to do and tell us what we're doing wrong.
"He'll sit down and talk to us."
Take it from Wingate to provide a unique perspective on the MU secondary. After all, he went through three different coordinators and position coaches while with the Herd.
His latest -- Rippon -- thinks that varied football background can only help his future in the coaching business.
"He sees the big picture," Rippon said. "Being his third guy, he accepted what the coaching was all about. That regardless of who it was, they were not out to get you. It was never anything personal. Our job was to make you a better football player and our team a better team.
"And when you get a kid like that, you just clamp on and you go."
Wingate's special character traits extend far beyond the football field. He lost his mother, Vonya Smart, in December of 2008. In 2009 and 2010, he battled injuries and got lost in the shuffle for a starting spot.
But through it all, he never lost a passion for the sport he desires.
"I love football," Wingate said. "I really can't see myself doing anything else besides being around football. Being here at Marshall University, being around the guys, it's a love thing for me.
"If I'm going to be here, I just can't see myself sitting at home while they're going through spring practice. I want to be around the guys and help as much as possible."
Wingate already earned one bachelor's degree -- in marketing last May -- and is working on his second -- in management -- to be completed this May. He hasn't ruled out the NFL yet (he participated in MU's pro day last month), but if that dream doesn't get fulfilled he's already started on his next one.
"If I ever get the opportunity to come back and be a part of a staff, if it's Coach Holliday's staff or whoever, I would most definitely come back," he said. "Huntington is a great city. The fans are loyal and the community is great because it's all revolved around Marshall football. You really can't ask for anything better than that."
He's already gained the approval of that potential future boss.
"D.J. is doing a nice job out there as a student assistant," Holliday said. "He's a good young coach. ... If coaching is in his blood and that's what he wants to do, he'd make an excellent coach."
If the NFL doesn't come calling, Wingate said he hopes to stick around and become a graduate assistant at Marshall while studying for a master's degree in adult and technical education.
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