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HUNTINGTON — Marshall’s Sam Burton waited a long time to be healthy for the Thundering Herd defensive front.

Over the course of two years, injuries and ailments slowed Burton’s ability to aid the team, but the 2021 season was a different story as he got back to 100 percent.

Ironically, now that he was healthy, the Marshall coaching staff needed to move him away from his norm and to a somewhat unique position against Navy.

“All week, Sam, we were playing a little bit different position for this week — you know, kind of an outside backer, not a true D-end,” Marshall head coach Charles Huff said.

For Burton, the switch for Navy did not matter.

Burton was just happy to be on the field flying around and making plays.

“It feels good to be back,” Burton said. “I had a lot of injuries last year, but I just had to stay in treatment and overcome that to come back ready.”

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Boca Raton, Florida, native made the most of his opportunities in the defensive rotation on Saturday, finishing with nine tackles and two tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks, in the Herd’s 49-7 win over the Midshipmen.

Burton had one of the game’s sneaky-best sequences on Navy’s opening drive that led to a defensive stop, which gave the Herd the ball back near midfield with a 7-0 lead.

After assisting on tackles with Eli Neal and Jayshaun Coffman to force a third-and-4 from Marshall’s 47, Burton read the eyes of Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai and broke up a pass that forced a fourth down, which Navy failed to convert.

Burton’s top defensive play, however, came with Navy threatening to get back into the ballgame on the final drive of the first half.

The Midshipmen were inside Marshall’s 10 after backup quarterback Xavier Arline entered and the Herd defense was on its heels a bit.

After a Marshall timeout to regroup, Navy tried to run a naked bootleg with Arline after using motion to shift the Herd defense, but Burton stayed home and stuffed Arline, forcing the time to run out on the first half.

Burton said the play was part of the fundamentals that were crucial for success against Navy.

“It’s just discipline,” Burton said. “You have to stay in your gap, stay patient and wait for it to come to you and let it all fall in place.”

Neal was one of several in Marshall’s circles who were happy to see Burton flying around and making plays for the Herd defense.

“Just like old times,” Neal said. “That’s the only Sam that I know — the Sam that’s going to go full throttle every chance he gets. He’s a person that’s going to give you 100 percent of what he’s got every day. He does it at practice, he does it in lifts, he does it in the classroom. That’s just the kind of person Sam is.

“When he’s on the field, you’re going to feel him every time.”

Burton and the Herd defense return to action on Saturday when they host North Carolina Central in a 6:30 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Grant Traylor is the sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch, who also covers Marshall athletics for HD Media. Follow him on Twitter @GrantTraylor.

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