June 27, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The 2014 Marshall football team experienced a somber and significant sunrise Friday.
For a third straight year, the Thundering Herd took a day off from regular summer conditioning and made the early morning 1.3-mile run through as lifting fog, from Edwards Stadium up 20th Street and Marshall Memorial Boulevard, turning onto Norway Avenue and into Spring Hill Cemetery.
The run took the lead group a little more than 10 minutes. Once there, at 6:51 a.m., the Herd players gathered as a group on the northwest promontory of the grounds.
They sat quietly in front of the Marshall Football Team Memorial where six players from the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash are buried, and all 75 who perished in the return flight from a loss at East Carolina are memorialized.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be at some great programs, where football is really important,” Herd Coach Doc Holliday said to his assembled team. “But there’s not a program in America where football is more important because it represents and remembers what happened in the plane crash in 1970.
“No other program in America has this story. Our older guys have embraced what this means … The freshmen have to understand every time you walk into that weight room, every time you walk onto that field, what it means to play at Marshall University. It’s a special place, and you have a responsibility to represent the school and the memories in the right way.”
Holliday introduced WSAZ Television Sports Director Keith Morehouse, whose father, Gene, was the Herd broadcaster and sports information director and died in the crash -- as did Dr. Ray and Shirley Hagley, the parents of Keith Morehouse’s future wife, Debbie.
“Nobody in this town knows this story better than Keith does,” Holliday said.
Morehouse – he was 9 when his father died -- spoke for about seven minutes, putting the tragedy into a historical context for the players.
“I can’t express enough how much it means and how important it is for all of us who lived through this that you guys come up and honor the 75 who died,” Morehouse said. “I know it’s not easy, and I know you guys hear about it all of the time.
“The program was very close to not ever playing a game again… They kept it going and in 1971, they won a couple of games they had no business winning -- beat Xavier, beat Bowling Green, and there was just a little bit of hope and year after year after year, all there was just hope.”
Morehouse then brought the remembrances of the crash and its victims fast forward to the 2013 season, when for the first time since the plane tragedy, Marshall played a football game on the road on the 43rd anniversary of the crash.
“Last year at the Tulsa game, we’re all watching you, with the (memorial) 75 on your helmets, and everybody’s thinking, ‘They can’t lose that game. Not today.’ You went through all that stuff watching the (Memorial Fountain) ceremony (in a Tulsa hotel banquet room), and I know that’s an emotional thing.
“We saw a lot of character that night. You guys could have packed it in on the road against a team you hadn’t beaten in Oklahoma, but you came back and won …”
“I want you to think every day when you get up and every day when you work out and every day when you practice, how much you mean to everybody. Not just here, but Marshall fans everywhere, because this program was close to being gone.”
Holliday called Rev. Steve Harvey, the Herd team chaplain, to the front of the group for a brief prayer. Harvey, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Ironton, reminded the Herd that it was “on sacred ground here …” and because of what happened in 1970, when the team plays, “we need to hold our heads high and chests out.”
Freshman quarterback Cole Garvin said the cemetery visit brought the Marshall “story” into focus for him.
“It was awesome,” said Garvin, of Tyrone, Ga. “Being a freshman, hearing (Morehouse) speak, and remember seeing him in the movie, it all brings it to life and it was very special. Playing for those people who died, that has to be the biggest thing we play for. We play for the fans, but knowing what happened here, what took place … it gives you an inner drive when you think about it.
“I saw the (“We Are … Marshall”) movie, and us being at the cemetery, it makes it all real, and it’s an amazing feeling. It doesn’t make it feel different, but it solidifies the reason I chose to come here, the special things we play for.”
Freshman offensive tackle AJ Addison, from Ruther Glen, Va., and a Fork Union Military Academy product, said he “didn’t know a lot about Marshall before I came here,” but said the run to the cemetery helped him grasp the pride that fuels Herd football.
“This was a very special experience, a special day,” Addison said. “I saw the movie, and it hit me once I got up there in the cemetery, looking at (the Memorial), thinking back to seeing it in the movie. And it’s such a big thing and big responsibility to play for those 75 who died, that number that was on the helmet.
“It’s a big thing to come out onto the field and have the right attitude because it means so much to so many people. You wake up every morning, appreciate it, get at it, and it makes you work even harder.”
Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato said it was important for freshmen like Garvin and Addison to understand what he came to know several years back.
“It’s very important to go up there (to Spring Hill Cemetery),” the three-year veteran QB said. “It’s very important not only to hear about it from the seniors and coaches, but to see it to have a better grasp of what’s going on about the university, the football program, the history.
“It’s very important to understand it’s bigger than them, and that they need to come out here and be a great individual. Every time I’ve gotten the chance to be at the cemetery, it touches me. And Keith talking about what those families went through, his talk, he has us really thinking about Marshall football, what it means and how much it means to so many people, letting us know that MU football is bigger than any of us.”
After the players’ run back to the stadium, they assembled for an emotional and rousing 12-minute talk by Harvey, who began by pointing out the “two different emotions” of the cemetery and the Herd’s 38,248-seat football home.
The team chaplain spoke of commitment and responsibility to team, school and one another, and pointed out that the lofty preseason expectations for the 2014 Herd “are great, but they have to be fulfilled.”
“You need to realize who you are,” Harvey said. “Yeah, we really are … Marshall.”
He reminded the team that the Aug. 30 season opener at Miami (Ohio) was only 64 days away. And when he finished his “sermon on the turf,” the chaplain was presented a Military Bowl ring by quarterback Rakeem Cato, defensive tackle James Rouse and center Chris Jasperse.
“Rev. Harvey, he’s just special,” Cato said. “Whenever he comes in and talks to us, everyone gets amped up, hyped up, and it just makes you feel good, a great feeling. He was excited about that bowl ring. He’s a great guy, a great man with a great message.”
The Herd left the session for a week-long break from conditioning (for most players) before they return for the final three weeks of summer workouts. Holliday’s team reports at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3 for the start of August preseason camp.