MARSHALL FOOTBALL ; Chase to the Top; Litton's Marshall Odyssey Comes Full Circle Back Home in Tampa

By Smock, Doug | Charleston Gazette Mail, December 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

MARSHALL FOOTBALL ; Chase to the Top; Litton's Marshall Odyssey Comes Full Circle Back Home in Tampa


Smock, Doug, Charleston Gazette Mail


INSIDE: Defense the key to UConns bounce-back season 4D

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - A year ago to this day, quarterback Chase Litton returned home to Tampa, having gotten his first taste of success in a Marshall jersey. His midyear entry into the Thundering Herd program allowed the wide-eyed freshman the opportunity to participate in bowl practice. That gave him a head start on his development and allowed him his first look at how a successful program operates.

He certainly witnessed a successful bowl game from the sidelines, watching quarterback Rakeem Cato wrap up a brilliant career by throwing three touchdowns in Marshall's 52-23 pasting of Northern Illinois at the Boca Raton Bowl. The next day, for the first time in four years, MU's often-fabled starting QB job was officially up for grabs.

The 6-foot-6 Litton had already taken a long, twisted road to Huntington, West Virginia. He had no idea what lay ahead in the year to come.

Jeff Litton knows the ins and outs of being a sports father. He has seen four sons develop into standout athletes, including one adopted - Shawn Vanzant, a member of Butler's Final Four basketball team. So when his youngest son, Chase, developed, he had a frame of reference not all fathers enjoy.

Chase played AAU basketball with an excellent Florida Select team, but one couldn't get a good read on his football potential until later.

"I knew he was a good athlete, but he had to play two years up in Pop Warner football because of his size, Jeff said. "I knew he had great success there.

"But until he got to high school, he made the varsity team as a freshman and kind of tore up the seven-on-seven circuit, I knew he could be special. I'm his father and I should feel that way, but I raised two other boys that played quarterback. I know in my heart of hearts that Division I football probably wasn't going to be what they'd end up doing. There's some realism there.

"But with Chase there was never a doubt, honestly. And please understand, that's not something from arrogance; he just had great success every time he's picked it up.

Chase Litton's high school career and recruitment was far from routine. There's a long story behind most top-flight Marshall quarterbacks. A sample:

* Tony Petersen, star of the 1987 team, went to Marshall from his California junior college late in the process, and 1988 starter John Gregory needed a home after the Southeastern Louisiana program folded.

* Chad Pennington received next to no offers out of his Knoxville, Tennessee, private school. He had no problems running an offense, but from a purely physical standpoint he didn't develop into a college passer until he redshirted as a sophomore in 1996.

* Rakeem Cato's upbringing in Miami's Liberty City was as rough as it gets, with his father in prison and his mother dying when he was a teenager.

Much of Chase Litton's adversity came at his own hand. As a sophomore, he and a former Wharton High teammate were arrested on multiple counts of burglary and theft, with felony charges included. Most such cases involving juveniles are quietly adjudicated, but this went very public.

Chase met his legal situation head-on, completing a pretrial intervention program, performing community service and getting the charges administratively dismissed. That may have been the easy part - he faced heckling student sections at basketball games and questions from recruiters about his character.

And Chase also had to deal with his mother, Lisa, overcoming cancer and then being diagnosed with lupus, the autoimmune disease.

He needed plenty of help with his high school journey. He points to his basketball coach at Wharton, Thomas Tonelli, as a major influence.

"He was my basketball coach, my guidance counselor, Chase said. "He kind of took me under his wing ever since middle school when I first moved to Tampa. I played with his son through middle school and high school. …

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