BOGACZYK: Holliday Enjoys Poll-Sitting Spot
The Word on the Herd-Jan. 15, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The final ballots have been counted, and Marshall Coach Doc Holliday knows where his 2014 Thundering Herd ranks.
“Those polls tell you we’re one of the elite teams in college football,” Holliday said in a Shewey Building office visit between staff meetings and phone calls connected to recruiting. “It’s where we wanted to be and where we expect to be.”
The final polls rankings of No. 22 in the Amway/USA Today coaches’ Poll and No. 23 in the Associated Press media balloting give the Herd (13-1) a springboard into 2015, Holliday said.
“Ultimately, that’s been our goal since I took the job, to finish in the Top 25,” Holliday said. “No. 22 and No. 23, that’s huge for us. We’ve won three bowls and a Conference USA championship and now people are putting us up there with the elite.
“It’s what Marshall wanted to get back to, and now we’re in there in the polls (ranked near) teams like Southern Cal, Auburn. It’s just great to see something like that.”
Holliday, pointed toward his sixth Marshall season with an enriched, six-year contract extension to be formalized soon, also realizes it raises the bar for next season, following the loss of about a dozen primary contributors.
“It should be raised,” he said. “We want that. We expect to be there next season. That’s what building a program is all about. We expect to play for championships, be an elite team. But now that we’ve arrived there, we have to understand how we got there.
“We have to continue to remind one another how we got there – working extremely hard on the field, in the classroom, in the weight room, being committed to putting forth that effort every day. No complacency. We can’t forget what got us to where we are.”
With Ohio State’s College Football Playoff championship win over Oregon in the rearview mirror, the Herd finished the season as the only major college team ranked in the top 20 nationally in both rushing offense (No. 8, 271.9 yards per game) and passing offense (No. 17, 287.3).
The Herd was No. 2 in total offense (559.2 yards) behind Baylor, and Marshall’s 7.6 yards per play topped the country. And Holliday said career performances like those from quarterback Rakeem Cato, slot receiver Tommy Shuler and place-kicker Justin Haig “might be ones that last a long time before they’re seen around here again.”
Meanwhile, MU recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Todd Hartley left for the Georgia staff, leaving some in Thundering Herd nation wondering about the continued talent search as National Signing Day approaches on Feb. 4.
Holliday said things won’t change, just as they didn’t when former recruiting coordinator JaJuan Seider left the staff for West Virginia and Hartley got that role two years ago.
To put it another way, Hartley was the recruiting coordinator. The same guy is the recruiting director – Holliday, who has spent more than three decades building a reputation among the finest in the game at finding players.
“We do what we do,” Holliday said, not discounting Hartley’s contribution. “This is Marshall University football’s plan to win. That plan to win has been in place since I’ve been here and that plan to win won’t change. We’ve lost coaches before and we’ve hired good ones and we’ll continue to do that. “We’ll bring somebody in here who will do what I want done. We’ll hire an excellent coach who is not only a great coach on the field, but one who gets involved in players’ lives. One of the best things we’ve got here is our coach-player relationships. That’s going to be very critical in who we hire.
“We want someone who will help us in preparation, on game day and the other things that go along with it. And whoever we hire as recruiting coordinator, he’s going to do what we do. I don’t know for sure yet whether we’ll (put a current staffer in charge of recruiting). Aaron Hill has been our high school relations guy, and Aaron will continue on. We won’t miss a beat.”
Holliday said he will be on the road most of the next two weeks, and some of that time will be spent to seal the deal with committed players. He said Marshall has “several” prospects scheduled for visits in coming weekend, “but not a lot.”
He said the Herd will sign only “about 9 or 10 new guys we’ll get in here in June. We’ve got a lot of guys already on campus that are part of this class (initial counters), Jerome Dews, Michael Birdsong, Shawn Petty, Blake Keller, the six who started classes this week.
“For the most part with this class, we’re where we want to be. And we’ll stay close to those guys until they sign.”
The six midyear additions include quarterback Chase Litton, linebackers Damien Dozier and Marquis Couch, tight end Emanuel Byrd and wide receivers Raylen Elzy and Reese Wooten.
“I’m glad they’re all here,” Holliday said. “They’re all very good players, and getting them in here in January, starting at midterm, it gives them a jump for winter conditioning, they get accustomed to the program, how we do things. Then they go through spring practice and they’ll all be ahead of schedule when August rolls around.”
The roster also grew in pre-Boca Raton Bowl practices by defensive linemen Malik Thompson and Jason Smith and cornerback Chris Williams-Hall.
A returnee going on scholarship is place-kicker Nick Smith, the rising redshirt sophomore Ohioan who Holliday said will open spring practice as Haig’s successor on field goals and PATs.
The Herd coach said the decision to play a significant number of redshirt and true freshmen in 2014 will pay dividends next season as Marshall loses eight seniors who were All-Conference USA first- or second-team picks.
“We had a lot of good young players, still do,” Holliday said. “If you don’t play them, when you need them, they’re not ready to play. Our wideouts … we were concerned last year at this time. We had young guys step up and that’s just one example of playing guys early in the year, getting their trust on special teams.”
By season’s end, Marshall tied national runner-up Oregon for the most touchdown receptions by freshmen (17). The Herd ranked No. 5 in FBS in freshmen receiving yards, with 1,315, on 82 catches by wide receivers Angelo Jean-Louis, Deon-Tay McManus, Hyleck Foster and tight end Ryan Yurachek.
“Some of our better players were freshmen,” Holliday said. “They not only played, they contributed in critical situations. Look at the wideouts, and look at Raheim Huskey at linebacker. We needed him to play in that (C-USA) championship game, and the way he played, he could have been the MVP.
“Those guys, I feel really good going forward. You’re always trying to develop depth, and it’s going to be fun to watch develop younger players we have.”
Holliday’s last two teams have a 23-5 record. The only teams with more wins in 2013 and ’14 were Florida State (27-1), Ohio State (26-3), Michigan State (24-3) and Oregon (24-4). He said the Herd has the talent to continue that success.
“At wide receiver, we didn’t lose a whole lot,” Holliday said. “We lost Tommy, who is a lot, but we’ve got a lot of guys back. Running back, those guys are back intact. Quarterback, we’ve got things to sort out (among Gunnar Holcombe, Cole Garvin, James Madison transfer Birdsong and Litton).”
Holliday said Yurachek “was exceptional for a true freshman” at tight end, and the Herd will look for depth there with Yurachek, returnee Joe Woodrum, true freshman Byrd and redshirt freshman Kaleb Harris, who is moving from linebacker.
On the offensive front, the plan is to move right guard Michael Selby to center to replace 4,000-snap man Chris Jasperse. Clint Van Horn and Sebastian Johansson return at right tackle and left guard, respectively.
Defensively, Holliday said the loss of lockdown cornerback Darryl Roberts leaves a large void, “but Corey Tindal played well and Keith Baxter finally seems healthy. Antavis Rowe played as a true freshman, and we’ve got Chris Williams-Hall there and a couple of others coming in. Cornerback is a spot where guys can play early.
“But it is a crucial spot. To be able to execute the defense the way we do, we’ve got to have guys who can really cover, to take away those easy access throws. At safety, we’re intact.
“Up front, we lose James Rouse, Ra’Shawde (Myers) and (Arnold) Blackmon, but we’ve got guys coming back who played a lot and we add (UCF transfer) Blake Keller. We’ve got (Steve) Dillon, Jarquez (Samuel), Rico (Ricardo Williams). Tomell One played a lot inside as a true freshman, and the two guys (Malik Thompson, Jason Smith) who were in camp before the bowl game, we think they can be really good.”
At linebacker, Holliday recognizes the losses of seniors Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes are significant. But D.J. Hunter is back, and Evan McKelvey will return after a second knee injury and surgery – although Holliday said McKelvey’s spring work will be limited).
Huskey has impressed, and Stefan Houston “is a talented guy who needs to be more consistent,” Holliday said. Petty, a Maryland transfer, and Couch join the group.
“Linebacker is an emphasis for us in recruiting,” the Herd coach said. “We need to develop some depth at that position.”
Spring practice opens March 24.
Holliday considered his team’s 13-1 record, its prominence among Group of 5 conference programs, and talked about how “maybe people don’t fully realize what was done … Cato, Shuler, some of those records may never be broken.
“Haig kind of quietly became one of the best kickers in Marshall history. He just kind of snuck up on you.”
After 10-4 and 13-1 seasons, the Herd won’t be doing any sneaking up on anyone. Holliday has the Herd where he wants it. The new goal is to keep thundering.