Aug. 2, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – There are more than a few ways to define the difference between Marshall Football 2012 and the version that will begin preseason workouts Monday morning.
One – and one where the importance can’t be overstated – is a strain of senioritis … the good kind.
Last season as Coach Doc Holliday’s third Herd team saw five potential wins slip away (Ohio, Purdue, Tulsa, UAB, East Carolina), Marshall had only eight seniors on a team that finished 5-7.
Six of those started, but one-third of those – safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, who were one-year graduate transfers from Boston College who ended up ranking 1-2 in tackles for MU.
Expect a lot of senior moments.
One reason so many have such high hopes – and prognostications – for Marshall is that Holliday has his classes proportioned going forward. And of the 18 seniors heading into camp, at least a dozen figure to line up as starters for the Aug. 31 opener against Miami (Ohio) at Edwards Stadium.
It is significant – and strong and vocal -- veteran leadership that Holliday figures the Herd lacked in 2012.
“You never want to get into a situation like we were a year ago when going in we had only 4-6 seniors (not counting the BC transfers), and a couple of them played,” Holliday said.
Of those six senior starters, half of those missed a significant amount of time in the final season, too.
“I feel really good for the first time since I’ve been here,” Holliday said. “Not only do I have 18 seniors, but I’ve got some real ‘guys.’ They’re not just bodies; they’re guys who can play.
“They’ve played a lot of football and it’s great to sit in that meeting room and have them sitting there looking at you and they’re on the same page you are.”
The list includes defensive linemen Jeremiah Taylor, Alex Bazzie, Brandon Sparrow and James Rouse, linebackers Billy and Derek Mitchell, and cornerbacks Monterius Lovett and Derrick Thomas.
As new coordinator Chuck Heater retools a defense that was too giving in 2012, he could have as many as six or seven senior starters.
On offense, the seniors list includes Mackey Award watch-listed tight end Gator Hoskins, linemen Garrett Scott, Jordan Jeffries, Alex Schooler and Gage Niemeyer, and the two Penn State wideout transfers, Devon “MooMoo” Smith and Shawney Kersey.
“We have not only great kids, but really good players,” Holliday said. “It’s a whole lot easier to be a leader that’s well-respected if you’re also a good player. And for the first time we’ve got a group of them who are not only good leaders, but they’re also good players, and that helps.”
Holliday, in his pre-camp media session earlier this week, pointed out that it’s not always a senior who will lead a team. And just because of his position and his accomplishments – as well as his personality and drive – junior quarterback Rakeem Cato (the reigning Conference USA MVP) will be pushing this Herd with more than moving-the-chains completions.
In a coaching career that began more than three decades ago, Holliday has seen a few significant exceptions to the senior/leader norm.
“You don’t have to be a senior to lead,” the Herd coach said. “The greatest leaders I’ve ever been around are Tim Tebow (at Florida) and Philip Rivers (at North Carolina State), a guy who came in and took over a whole team as a freshman.
“Those guys are special, and normally your better leaders are guys who are older guys, but we’ve got some younger guys who are good leaders. Chris Jasperse (redshirt junior center) has played a lot of football. And he’s a good leader for us. Cato and (Biletnikoff Award list slot receiver) Tommy Shuler are guys that need to be great leaders for us, and they have been.
“The Frohnapfels (twins Eric and Blake) … a lot of juniors out there, and those juniors who played 2-3 years now and they’re good players, which helps.”
What has been a minus for the Herd in Holliday’s earlier seasons has developed into a plus. Because the Herd had to use players like Cato, Shuler, Hoskins, Scott and linebacker Jermaine Holmes as true freshmen, those players and others have a depth of experience above the norm in FBS programs.
“We have a lot of guys who have played a lot,” Cato said. “It’s time for us to win, use our experience as an advantage. We need to take it upon us to make the Marshall name come back alive in football, do everything in our power to come back.
“There are a lot of leaders on this team, and that’s going to help us a lot.”
Holliday and his QB are on the same page.
“As the head coach, from a personnel standpoint, I feel better going into this year than I ever have,” Holliday said. “We’ve got some pieces in place where we’ve got a shot if we take care of business and prepare, we’ve got a shot to have a pretty good football team.
“I don’t look around right now and see a lot of holes like I’ve seen in the past. I think for the most part, both sides of the ball, we have a chance to have good players in place and as a head coach, that’s exciting.
“I like this team; they’ve had a great summer, and I know they’re excited to get going … We’re looking forward to (players reporting) Sunday and getting things started.”