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BOGACZYK: Holliday Wants Summertime Success, Too

April 25, 2015



            HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Doc Holliday isn't an ambassador to the United Nations, but his Marshall football team does have players who are natives of Sweden, Albania and Norway.

            Sticking with that foreign flavor, what Holliday wants as the Thundering Herd points toward summer conditioning and August camp is the same thing he found in the 15 days of 2015 spring practice that ended Saturday.

            It's the Japanese word that many U.S. companies have adopted as a way of running their businesses -- "kaizen," or loosely translated, "continuous improvement."

            Despite a dampened spring session -- eight of 15 practices were moved to the indoor facility and the weather for Saturday's sodden, pseudo-Green and White Game was more suited to the Oregon Ducks -- the sixth-year Herd coach smiled about what transpired in the five weeks of drills.

            "I felt like we accomplished our goals this spring, but we have to continue to improve," Holliday said away from the post-scrimmage autograph crush. "Every time you go into a spring, there are certain guys that you want to challenge to become better players, and I think we did that. A year ago, we talked about the outside receivers needed to make progress, and they did. The young defensive ends had to step up, and that happened.



            "Going into this spring, our No. 1 priority was making sure we had a quarterback we felt really good about, and I think that's going to happen. We'll see; we're still evaluating, but it's a good thing. Some of the young kids, a Tony Pittman made progress at running back with Devon (Johnson) and Remi (Watson) not able to go in spring.

            "Some of those young receivers got better; some of the young offensive linemen, we needed certain ones to come along, like (guards Nate) Devers and (Jordan) Dowrey. They grew up a little bit, and it was great to see Tyler Combs back out there on the offensive line after all he's gone through trying to come back from all he went through (three right ankle surgeries).

            "On the other side of the ball, a Chris Williams-Hall at corner and other young players on defense continuing to grow ... for me, that was fun to watch."

            The Herd is replacing 12 starters (including place-kicker Justin Haig) from its Conference USA championship club that finished 13-1, won the Boca Raton Bowl and was voted Nos. 22/23 in the final national polls -- the first Herd final poll-sitting since 2002.

            What spring ball was about for Holliday and Co. was not just finding replacements for names like Cato, Jasperse, Rouse, Roberts, Hewitt and Shuler, but building depth in the "twos" and beyond on the depth chart.

            And as the calendar turns later this week?

            "The deal is we've got to have the best summer we've ever had," Holliday said. "I've been meeting with every single player (to end the semester), and we all talk about the fact we expect to be great.

            "Well, that starts in May. You don't win football games in August and September and October; You win them by the effort you give and the way you prepare in May, June, July. It's critical we have great months in the offseason. That's how we've gotten to where we are, and we want to stay there.

            "They all have to get better as players ... every one of them, even the best guys we've got. We've been able to do that the last couple of years, and it's important it happens again this summer."

            The Herd coach said that one position battle from the spring that will continue early in August camp is between Nick Smith and Amoreto Curraj, who are vying to replace Haig as the principal field goal/PAT specialist.

            Elsewhere, Holliday wants the "ones" who are stepping into a void to not only play big on the field, but show the kind of leadership that several 2014 seniors displayed.

            "We lost some good players," said Holliday, who turned 58 last Tuesday. "A Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes are gone at linebacker, so a (Shawn) Petty and (Raheim) Huskey have opportunities, have to step up. We lose a James Rouse, so seniors like Jarquez (Samuel) and (Steve) Dillon have to replace him.

            "Arnold Blackmon and Ra'Shawde Myers played their best football as seniors a year ago. So, a Gary Thompson, Joe Massaquoi, Armonze Daniel and Blake Keller have got to step up at defensive end. Same thing, we lose `Swagg' (Darryl Roberts) at corner. He's probably going to be an NFL player. Well, guys like Corey Tindal, Keith Baxter, (Antavis) Rowe, a Williams-Hall, just have to step up there.

            "The great thing about college football is that kids react in different ways when it's their turn. A lot of times, people step up and become even better players than what you thought they would be.

            "So, we lose a (Chris) Jasperse, a (Tommy) Shuler, a (Rakeem) Cato from that offense. Guys like Hyleck Foster, Angelo Jean-Louis have got to pick up so we can get that production out of them in the slot.

            "With Jasperse, there's maybe never been an offensive lineman at Marshall play the number of snaps he did (4,040) -- and may never again. It's amazing. Some of those records may never be broken, Cato's consecutive touchdown games (46, the NCAA major-college record), Jasperse starts (53) and snaps, even Shuler's (322 career) receptions ... All three (MU) Hall of Fame guys 10 years down the road, and their production has to be replaced.

            "So, if you're looking at key places where we have to step up and get it done ... it has to be those three on offense. And on defense, you've got a Rouse, Roberts and Hewitt, all conference guys, Hewitt the (C-USA) Defensive Player of the Year. We've absolutely got to be able to replace those guys."

            Holliday said he saw "plenty" he liked in spring ball, where the Herd honed its craft by consistently working "good on good" with top personnel. Asked to name a few individuals who made an impression, the Herd coach didn't hesitate.

            "Justin Hunt at outside receiver, he had a tremendous spring, really stepped up," Holliday said. "I think a couple of those young offensive linemen -- Devers and Dowrey -- are further ahead than I thought they'd be at this point. They made tremendous progress. At left tackle, Eric Ansley made great strides, and Sandley Jean-Felix continues to get better there.

            "A couple of those young corners showed me they really have the ability, Rowe's a talented guy who has to continue to grow, and Chris Williams-Hall -- in his first time out there (after joining the program for pre-bowl practices) -- has the ability to play there for us. He just has to become more consistent, keep improving.

            "Tony Pittman gives us another guy in the backfield, a physical guy who brought toughness. With Stew (Butler) and Devon and Remi, add Pittman, and we've got some running backs now.

            "We all have to keep working. Summer was big for what we got last year. It's no different now."