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Herd safeties two of a kind

August 10, 2018

Who believes in fate?

Who believes in kismet?

Who believes in destiny?

Malik Gant and Nazeeh Johnson are holding up their hands.

That’s because the pair of Marshall football players, who are on-track to becoming the starting safeties, certainly do believe that some things are meant to be.

Gant and Johnson are walking, talking, tackling proof of it.

The two defensive backs didn’t even know each other until arriving at Marshall one year apart. But as soon as Johnson joined Gant during preseason practice in 2016, the duo just clicked.

That’s because their similarities are off the charts.

For starters, Gant and Johnson played high school football somewhat near each other. Gant was at Woodson High School in Washington, D.C., while Johnson played for Millbrook in Winchester, Va.

“I think my school was about two hours away — not far at all,” said Johnson, 5-foot-10, 183-pound redshirt sophomore. “But we never knew each other.”

Their paths didn’t cross until they each showed up at Marshall as a walk-on. Gant, 6-2, 200-pound redshirt junior, is a year older than Johnson, but the close-knit duo has been making up for lost time ever since.

“That’s my brother, man,” said Johnson. “I love him to death. I think we connected within a week. We had the same interests and all that. We connected on the field and off the field — both. We hang out all the time. It’s like a family relationship.”

They are indeed two-of-a-kind.

“We are exactly alike,” said Gant. “I tell the coaches, ‘Me and Nazeeh are like twins ... exactly alike.’”

So, it just stands to reason that now Marshall is playing Gant and Johnson side-by-side as “twin” safeties.

“He teaches me what to do,” said Johnson. “He keeps me on my ‘A’ game. Whatever he does, I do the same. I like safety a lot. I think that’s my best position to play. It fits more of my athletic abilities, I’d say.”

Both Gant and Johnson burst onto the scene simultaneously during the 2017 season. Gant ended up starting 10 games at safety, making 100 tackles (second on the team) and earning second-team All-Conference USA honors. Meanwhile, Johnson became MU’s first-team nickelback and played in 12 games.

But his nickel days are over.

“Nazeeh has always been a safety ... always,” said Gant. “Nazeeh showed them last season that he can play any position because Nazeeh has heart. Nazeeh is like a perfect fit because me and Nazeeh play exactly alike.

“When he first came here, I saw in Nazeeh that he was tough mentally. He was just like me. So, I told him, ‘Just keep on that pace.’ At that point, it was Coach (Chuck) Heater. I told Nazeeh, ‘Coach Heater is going to love you. Everybody is going to see you’re just like me and you’re going to fit in the system just as well as me.’ And Coach Heater saw that, too.”

So, is it any wonder these two are nearly inseparable.

“Oh, man, we play 2K together,” said Johnson. “I beat him all the time. It’s an NBA video game. We eat out. Last summer, we just hung out all the time. We cooked out on the grill. We have separate apartments, but we spend a lot of time together. He’s

Malik & Nazeeh.

They are two safeties with one heartbeat.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The HeraldDispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.