Marshall University freshman quarterback Chase Litton, the former Wharton High School standout, took an unconventional route to success.
He was “fairly cocky and beyond confident” on National Signing Day 2014, when he actually signed with no one because he believed the offers were beneath his skill level. He planned on enrolling at a prep school, where he could develop for a year.
Marshall remained interested, and eventually Litton realized that’s where he wanted to be. He ditched the prep-school plans. But the timing was off. Marshall had given all its scholarships. Litton missed the 2014 season and didn’t arrive until January. Last fall, he worked out with private quarterbacks coach John Kaleo in Tampa. Then he waited.
“I felt lost,” said Litton, 6-foot-6, 207 pounds. “It was the longest six months of my life. I wasn’t part of it. I was just sitting at home. I was determined that if I got my shot, I was going to make the most of it.”
Litton has done just that.
He’s one of nine true freshmen quarterbacks who are starting at Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Since becoming Marshall’s quarterback, Litton has guided the Thundering Herd (6-1, 3-0 Conference USA) to five consecutive victories. The winning streak is expected to continue Saturday when North Texas (0-6, 0-3) visits for Marshall’s homecoming.
“Every time out, you see Chase grow,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.
At Marshall, there’s a legacy of excellent quarterbacks.
There’s Eric Kresser, who led the Herd to a Division I-AA national title. There’s Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, who became first-round NFL draft picks. There’s Rakeem Cato, the program’s all-time leading passer who is now thriving in the Canadian Football League.
And now there’s Litton, who already has made a distinctive mark. He threw 10 touchdown passes in his first four games, the best start ever for a Marshall quarterback.
“I didn’t know that until someone told me,” Litton said. “Honestly, I’m not getting caught up in numbers or anything else except winning, doing the right thing and being more consistent.
“I feel like the way I got here, I was humbled a bit. And that was good for me. I had a high opinion of myself, but I needed to develop as a player and a person. All I’m thinking about is the next game, really the next play.”
That approach is music to the ears of his father, Jeff.
“I think the light came on for him,” Litton’s father said. “He overcame a lot of things, and he saw how some of his decisions really cost him. It was a full year of being away from something he loved doing.
“He was chomping at the bit. Yet, when he got to Marshall, he had to start all over. That first spring practice, he was down with the walk-ons. He had to work his way up. But he didn’t complain or say, ‘Why me?’ He worked, persevered and now he’s better for it.”
Litton was undaunted when Michael Birdsong was named Marshall’s starter and helped produce a 41-31 season-opening win against Purdue. By the third game, Holliday opened the quarterback competition and Litton claimed the starting spot with superior play.
Now he feels at home — in most ways.
“It’s freezing here,” Litton said Wednesday. “Last night, I had on a hoodie, a jacket, two pair of pants … and I was still cold. But it’s all good.”
Litton said he has fallen in love with the Marshall community.
“When I was in high school, I thought I was bigger than the schools that were talking to me,” said Litton, who made a verbal commitment to South Florida but de-committed prior to his senior season at Wharton. “I wasn’t showing them any love and I burned a lot of bridges. Sometimes, your eyes need to be opened.
“This is a special place. The people of Huntington (West Virginia) will always treat me like a son of Marshall. It’s like the football program and the town are joined as one. I know this is where I’m meant to be.”
Litton is entrenched as Marshall’s quarterback.
And the best part of all? He’s just getting started.