ST. PETERSBURG — He lives with five teammates and his beloved German Shepherd in a sprawling six-bedroom apartment atop a jewelry store in downtown Huntington, W. Va.
Chase Litton wouldn't trade this communal existence for all the inventory in the stock room below. Chances to reboot one's career are simply too priceless. Once a display case of cocksureness, Litton has been humbled personally and lauded publicly in this new lease on life. Meantime, his passion for football has been stoked.
Pendants and engagement rings, first floor. Heart's on fire, second floor.
"I was given a second chance here," Wharton High's former two-sport extraordinaire said, "and I was blessed with the opportunity, and I've just got to … take advantage of it."
Less than two years after his conspicuous absence on national signing day, 20-year-old Chase Harris Litton returns to the bay area as a celebrated freshman quarterback for Marshall (9-3), which faces Connecticut (6-6) in Saturday's St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field. The enormity of the homecoming game is something he can't articulate.
"You have no idea," Litton said.
Thrust into the starting role by Game 3, he has thrown for 2,387 yards and a Thundering Herd freshman-record 22 touchdowns. His efficiency rating (133.6) is higher than that of more heralded rookie Josh Rosen of UCLA (133.2).
"When he breaks down … his eyes stay down the field, he finds a way to make plays," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "He's done a great job of doing that. He's got all the physical skills, he's got the mind-set to be a great quarterback. He still is just a true freshman. There's going to be some growing pains still left to come."
They can't be any more acute than the ones he already has experienced. Litton's prep alma mater and Tropicana Field are separated by 43.4 miles and one bridge. Rest assured, there's a lot of water beneath it.
A sea of self-absorption tainted with droplets of self-infliction. Litton waded through it, periodically impeded by the negative undertow.
"I was young, immature and did a couple of things, and I thought I was higher than a couple of people," Litton recalled in a recent phone conversation after a Marshall bowl practice.
Equipped with verticality (6 feet 6) and velocity, Litton's ceiling seemed vaulted, even as a Wharton freshman. He threw for 8,000 yards in four seasons and seemingly as many for his nationally heralded 7-on-7 squad — Team Tampa — in the summer circuits.
He even appeared to overcome the biggest misstep of his youth — an arrest at 16 for burglarizing vehicles and unlocked garages with a buddy in a New Tampa neighborhood — by performing more community service than his pretrial intervention program called for.
The major and mid-major overtures were plenteous. He worked out for coaches at camps at Alabama and Louisville, then stunned many by committing to USF, only to de-commit a month later after quickly becoming disillusioned with the Bulls.
By national signing day of 2014, various options remained on the table for him, his dad, Jeff, insists. Chase says they were minimal.
"It's kind of like a commit-early thing," Chase Litton said. "So once I de-committed from USF, I had a couple of schools like Toledo, FIU, FAU … but again, at the time, my senior year, I thought way too highly of myself, and I didn't consider anybody."
Marshall, however, hung with him. Roughly a month after signing day, Litton and his parents were returning from a visit to a prep school in Atlanta when Thundering Herd coaches called. Their recruiting pitch always had been "Find Home," but they insisted recruits find it in person.
"They wouldn't let him commit over the phone," Jeff Litton said.
A visit to Huntington ensued. Chase got some quality time with Holliday, who also has a son named Chase. The youngest of Jeff and Lisa Litton's three boys was sold.
"He said, 'I love that man,' " Jeff Litton recalled. " 'I'm in. This is gonna be my home.' "
Over the next nine months, Litton worked out three days a week with a fitness trainer, and another three with prominent local quarterbacks coach John Kaleo. He enrolled at Marshall in January, then competed for the starting job over the spring and summer, losing out to fourth-year junior Michael Birdsong.
After an abysmal outing in a 21-10 loss at Ohio, Birdsong was replaced by Litton. In a 45-7 romp of Norfolk State, he became the first freshman at Marshall — which has produced such NFL quarterbacks as Eric Kresser, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich — to throw four touchdown passes in his college starting debut.
"I was talking with my buddies the other day, if I knew the things I know now in high school, I would've been a lot better," Litton said.
"Whether it's reading defenses, reading over odd fronts … the game is not what everyone thinks. From high school to college is a huge step, and I just knew I had to adapt to it."
In turn, Huntington is adapting to him. According to Jeff and Litton's oldest brother, Josh, Chase's diamond earrings created ripples in his new environment before fans learned they belonged to his mom, a cancer survivor battling lupus.
"Make no doubts about it, he's a momma's boy through and through," Jeff Litton said. "She means the world to him and vice versa."
On Saturday, Lisa, Jeff and their other two boys cross the bridge for the biggest homecoming game of Chase's life. Hearts will be afire, and there's no suppressing them.
"He's more humble, that's definitely for sure, and he'll be the first one to tell you that," Josh said. "He's always really loved the game. I think he appreciates it now."
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.