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BOGACZYK: Holliday Says Herd Ready to Tackle Expectations

Doc Holliday

July 28, 2014

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.Doc Holliday pointed out Monday that only one player is left on the Marshall football roster who pre-dates the coach’s December 2009 arrival to rebuild the Thundering Herd.

That it’s James Rouse – the sixth-year tackle who is the 2014 preseason Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year – makes a statement.

Holliday, who fielded questions in a pre-August camp press conference Monday at Edwards Stadium, said he needed more players like Rouse. The lofty predictions for Holliday’s fifth MU team show that the Herd coach has found and/or developed them.

“It sure doesn’t feel like five years,” Holliday said. “Time has flown, starting our fifth year. But I felt we could get to this point or I wouldn’t have taken the job.

“I always felt like we’d have the opportunity to play for championships, to win championships, and it’s exciting we’re at that point here. Now, we’ve just got to go take care of business and work hard to reach our goals and dreams.”

When he was hired, did Holliday figure on a shorter or longer time frame to the top 25 projections the Herd has received from some prognosticators?

“No, I thought it might be about like this,” he said. “You know, it’s all about players and when I got here … These are our guys, and we finally got them all here now. It started to take place a year ago, I thought, and now they’re all here so I feel good about where we are and where we’re going. We’ve just got to keep working hard. That’s what got us here.”

The Herd is coming off a 10-4 season – its first with double figures in the victory column since 2002 – and a Military Bowl win over Maryland. Holliday said the leadership among the players that sprouted “about halfway through last season” is carrying the Herd into 2014 preseason camp, which begins when the players report back to the Shewey Building on Sunday morning (Aug. 3).


 

 

“It’s amazing we’re back to this thing already,” Holliday said. “Expectations are extremely high. I understand that. I think that’s a good thing … People are talking about us like they haven’t. We embrace that, but we also understand that along with expectations comes responsibility.

“I know as our head football coach I’m excited, looking forward to it … It’s different. That’s a good thing. Everybody out there thinks we’re pretty good and that’s better than the first couple of years, when nobody thought we’d win a game, so that’s a positive.

“We have to understand that you have to go to work every day. You don’t stay the same; you get better or get worse … We talk all the time about the things that can destroy our goals and dreams.”

Holliday said the foundation was set for this season during the 2013 season, when the Herd made a five-win improvement and the scoring defense had the greatest improvement in FBS (20.5 ppg) since 1997-98 (Central Michigan).

And after he had to replace more than two-third of his coaching staff between 2012 and ’13, this offseason brought only one move, with Chris Barclay’s hire as running backs coach after Thomas Brown left for Wisconsin’s staff. That stability is crucial, the Herd coach said.

“I thought early in the year, a year ago, the culture hadn’t quite changed,” Holliday said. “Early on, we found a couple of ways to lose games, not win them. Whereas later in the year, things started to change a little bit, the leadership got a lot better and (the players) started to take ownership in that team.

“So, there’s no doubt that’s carried over this summer, in spring ball, and stability on the staff. Last year, there were six or seven new faces out there coaching these guys … They had the whole season, offseason, spring ball (with them). The stability we’ve had should help us.”

Holliday referred back to spring practice in discussing at which positions he felt the Herd needed improvement, and which he might watch more keenly in camp.

He listed the Herd’s desire to develop “an outside threat” at receiver, and he mentioned Davonte Allen, Justin Hunt and Angelo Jean-Louis. The Herd coach also said increased depth in the offensive line was a plus, and on the defensive front, inexperienced ends Armonze Daniel and Joe Massaquoi “took a step.” On the back line, “it will be interesting to see if (cornerback Keith) Baxter is finally healthy and can reach his potential.”

The Herd coach also said the running back position “will be fine,” as led by juniors Steward Butler and Remi Watson.

“I have no worries about running back,” Holliday said.

He also pointed out that at running back – as well as elsewhere – there could be a player who steps up in camp. Essray Taliaferro, a presumed third-stringer at this time a year ago as running back, won the starting job as a senior because he was a more “complete” back than Kevin Grooms (dismissed from the program Saturday), Butler and Watson, Holliday said.

Holliday said he has no concerns about star quarterback Rakeem Cato, whose name has been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate. ”Cato’s concerned about one thing,” the Marshall coach said. “That’s winning games – as the great ones are.”

Behind Cato, Holliday said the backup quarterback derby “will continue (in camp) for a while … at the end of the first couple of weeks, then we have to settle on who’s the guy” between redshirt sophomore Gunnar Holcombe and true freshman Cole Garvin.

Holcombe was No. 2 coming out of spring drills.

Both have the ability – the skill sets, arm strength, seem to have the intangibles -- but I don’t think either one has separated themselves coming out of spring ball. The good thing is I think they both can play. The other this is, somebody has to separate, and separate quickly.

“You can’t get three ready to play … When you think you have two, you don’t have any at that position, to be honest.”

It’s also that kind of competition at nearly every position – created through strong recruiting and player development – that has Holliday’s Herd poised for the kind of season few other than the Marshall coach envisioned five years ago.  

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