HUNTINGTON — Heading into the 2020 season, Marshall wide receiver Talik Keaton was poised to become a breakout talent for the Thundering Herd offense.
Keaton was already known as Conference USA’s premier return man and had taken on a greater role in the passing game, shining in spring and the preseason.
As the season got underway, though, Keaton could never get under good footing — literally. A rash of nagging injuries left the talented sophomore from Sarasota, Florida, limited throughout last season.
With the year of frustration over, Keaton has taken to preparation for 2021 with a renewed vigor, according to new head coach Charles Huff.
Huff’s up-tempo scheme is going to benefit the playmakers on offense, and Keaton is certainly among those, as Huff pointed out earlier this week.
“Talik is probably the most consistent in that group right now,” Huff said.
Huff talked about there being plenty of flash among Marshall’s playmakers, but he was looking for “consistent light” which Keaton is bringing to the table with his efforts each day.
In terms of looking at everything that transpired over the past year, it certainly feels like a fresh start brings a renewed energy for Keaton.
The NCAA’s allowance of an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 allows players another chance after what was a frustrating 2020 for most.
Keaton may be at the head of the list of players who are looking to put 2020 behind them after catching just 17 passes for 175 yards and one score in eight games last season while never being fully 100 percent due to the ailments and injuries suffered.
Huff’s system will incorporate more motion and gadget plays than in previous years for the Herd, and Keaton’s strengths as a playmaker in space, evidenced by his abilities in the return game, seem keen to be utilized in those particular scenarios.
“We are going to see them (the receivers) do some different things this season and this spring, and continuing to move the program forward,” Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said. “The up-tempo stuff is exciting for everybody.”
Keaton’s resurgence for spring 2021 started with the Fourth Quarter program as he gained the respect and notice of strength and conditioning coaches who consistently mentioned him as a leader within his position group during conditioning.
For Keaton, that weight room work goes a long way toward keeping him healthy in the 2021 season while also adding to his explosiveness which Huff and Cramsey are seeking to exploit on the field in September.
And while Keaton is only listed as a redshirt sophomore on the depth chart, he will be going into his fourth season with the program, having been here for the duration of Cramsey’s tenure with the Herd, too.
That gives him a familiarity with the scheme and some of the carried-over terminology, as well as a leadership presence among the room that positions him as one of the Herd’s most vital pieces for 2021.
In addition to the offensive exploits, Keaton is still expected to be heavily involved as a return man where he was noted as C-USA’s all-conference first-team punt returner in each of the last two seasons.
Whether through the air, on the ground or by way of the return game, Keaton’s consistency through winter conditioning and spring has gained him early candidacy to snag extra touches in 2021.