Taj ready to put on a show
HUNTINGTON — If a person goes to a place called “the Taj” in Vegas or Atlantic City, there is no doubt they will see plenty of bright lights and a big-city feel.
If a new Marshall University defensive back has his way, “the Taj” will be putting on 12 or 13 football shows this fall around Conference USA.
Taj Letman, a 6-foot-3, 183-pound safety from Elberton, Ga., has been waiting to step onto this big stage for a long time.
“It’s a dream-come true to be in a D-I program coming where I’m from,” Letman said. “For all this to happen — finding a stable home here, a home that I’m happy at — and getting to pick my school that last time before Signing Day, it just let me know I’m here and I’m here to stay.”
Letman said it felt “like Christmas” last week when he hit the practice field for the first time as a member of a Division I program.
There might have been double-meaning to the comment.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited,” Letman said of the first Tuesday practice. “I got my pads and stuff like a week ago and I was talking about that all week. It’s like Christmas for me, man.
“But like I was telling them boys the first day, coming from Mississippi and Georgia, we don’t get that snow. They told me that’s like a normal day for them. I’ll have to get used to that, but I couldn’t be happier. ”
The sophomore safety made quite the impact in his first practice sessions with the Thundering Herd.
During last Tuesday’s 7-on-7 period near the end of practice, Letman ranged to his left and dove to pick off a pass in front of newcomer wide receiver Shawney Kersey, a Penn State transfer.
It was a showcase of his speed (4.42-40-yard dash) and his range — both attributes the Herd can utilize greatly.
The interception set off a celebration on the defensive sideline, which got the excitable Letman fired up, too.
“It felt good to be back after a year out,” Letman said. “(Marshall head) Coach (Doc) Holliday told me when he recruited me, he said ‘It’s your spot to lose.’ I’m out here trying to get it.”
Letman’s hunger can be understood after the road he’s taken to reach the Division I level.
He burst onto the recruiting scene as a freshman at Holmes (Miss.) Community College after finishing the season with 59 tackles and 10 pass breakups. The season brought about lots of interest from several BCS programs, who were interested in tracking his progress during his sophomore year.
That second season ended as soon as it began with Letman being injured in the third period of Holmes’ first preseason practice for the 2012 season. Periods are normally five minutes in length during practice sessions, so he was literally injured within the first 20 minutes of stepping on the field for the first time.
Letman suffered an injury to his right ring finger in which the tendon separated from bone.
He had two options — play through it and run the risk of losing his finger or opt for surgery, which would end his season — both of which came with possible implications for his future.
To avoid the risk of further injury, Letman opted for the surgery, which turned out to be the right move.
Letman was recruited by the likes of Baylor, Nebraska, Kentucky, Purdue and Georgia.
Many of those schools backed off and went after other prospects because of the injury, but later tried to jump back on board as the recruiting process carried closer to JUCO Signing Day in December 2012.
At the end of the day, however, it was Marshall — a school who had been on him and stayed on him from the beginning — that won Letman over.
“The safety spot is wide-open,” Letman said. “They lost two guys from last year. I’m going to take this opportunity and someone’s going to have to rip it from me to try and get it. It’s out there for me to take.”
Now, the Herd gets into its second week of spring practice starting with Tuesday’s 3:30 p.m. session.
And Letman will be back in full pads at what he might call a dress rehearsal.
Considering that Marshall lost more than 200 tackles at the safety spots from 2012, Letman knows his role will be large for the big show this fall.
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