Aug. 21, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - While Marshall's two-deep is likely to include about 15 seniors to open the 2014 football season, it's what at the other end of the Thundering Herd roster that makes an impression, too.
After a 2011 season when Marshall played an unusually high number of true freshmen as Coach Doc Holliday was establishing his program, the last two seasons have seen fewer rookies on the field for the Herd.
That figures to change this season, and it's an indication of the quality of the 2014 recruiting class.
If August camp is any indication, the Herd could play as many as nine true freshmen early this season. Any injuries could increase that number.
"I'm not sure I've had this many, to be honest," Holliday said after a practice this week when asked about true freshmen who won't be redshirted. "I don't know ... you (media) would know better than me.
"I think the first year there were several. (There are) probably anywhere from six to eight that will play -- and that's true freshmen -- and that's probably one of the higher numbers since I've been here, but that's a good thing, because that means we've got more talented players coming in."
Asked to figure the likely true freshmen who will play, Holliday counted even higher than his original estimate -- nine.
The names of likely participants include receivers Donquell Green, Hyleck Foster and Emanuel Beal; defensive linemen Tomell One and Jerome Dews; safety Kendall Gant; cornerback Antavis Rowe, tight end Ryan Yurachek; and offensive tackle AJ Addison.
The coach's first count didn't include Addison, who was an early enrollee and went through spring practice, and Dews, who only joined the program a few days before players reported for August camp.
Holliday played eight scholarship true freshmen in his 2010 debut. Those still with the Herd as redshirt seniors are cornerback Darryl Roberts and wideout Demetrius Evans. The Herd used 10 scholarship freshmen in 2011, a group that included Rakeem Cato, Tommy Shuler, Eric Frohnapfel, Jermaine Holmes and Evan McKelvey.
Only four true freshmen played in 2012, and two of those were on special teams. Punter Tyler Williams and snapper Matt Cincotta were joined by offensive lineman Cam Dees and then-tight end Devon Johnson - and Williams was a walk-on then.
Holliday's philosophy is if a rookie is good enough to play, the Herd will get him on the field early and avoid burning a redshirt late unless absolutely necessary.
Last season, six true freshmen played over the first two games (Michael Selby, Michael Johnson, Justin Hunt, Josh Knight, Amoreto Curraj and Tiquan Lang). A seventh - linebacker Stefan Houston - made his debut in the Week 4 triple-overtime loss at Virginia Tech. Houston's debut was delayed as he recovered from a high (right) ankle sprain.
The number of second-year players getting their introductions in a Herd uniform - as redshirt freshmen - figures to increase, too.
In 2013, Holliday played eight redshirt freshmen, including nickel Corey Tindal, who started and became the Conference USA Co-Freshman of the Year. A check of the 2014 camp roster - considering August camp developments - could see as many as 10 redshirt freshmen seeing time for MU.
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After some additional research by this grizzled pressbox-sitter, the numbers show that the Miami-to-Marshall passing connection of Cato-to-Shuler is the most prolific aerial combination in Herd history.
In a HerdZone.com/Herd Insider feature story on Shuler at the start of August camp, I wrote that of Cato's 886 career completions, 219 went to his buddy Shuler, for 2,340 yards and 16 touchdowns.
However, with Cato still chasing Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich on Herd career passing lists in most categories, it was only natural to wonder whether one of those QBs completed as many as 219 to a receiver.
Shuler has caught 11 balls from two former Herd passers (AJ Graham and Blake Frohnapfel). There also are three receivers in front of Shuler on the Herd career list - Josh Davis, Darius Watts and Mike Barber.
Barber and Davis had more than one quarterback as their primary passers, and research on the subject eliminated them early. However, Watts spent three seasons catching Leftwich passes, so I thought there might be a chance at getting into the Cato-Shuler neighborhood.
It didn't happen.
Watts caught 196 Leftwich passes from 2000 through `02. Those two do have the most yardage for a Herd career passing combo, with 3,145, and also the Herd combo record 35 touchdowns.
Randy Moss owns the MU record for TD receptions (53), but those were divided primarily between Eric Kresser and Pennington over Moss' two seasons (1996 and '97).
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The Herd's 41 points in the Associated Press preseason poll came from 11 of the 60 voters (including a high of No. 15 from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News). The 32nd-place start to the season provided a platform for some additional research on Marshall in previous preseason polls.
The highest showing for Marshall in an AP preseason poll was at No. 19 in 2002, the only time the Herd started a season in the wire-service Top 25. Marshall also was No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' preseason poll in '02.
Marshall climbed as high as No. 16 (AP) before a 47-21 loss at No. 7 Virginia Tech in Week 3, but eventually closed the season at No. 24 after a GMAC Bowl win over Louisville for an 11-2 year.
In 1999, the Herd - in its third season back in major college football after Division I-AA glory -- was coming off a 12-1 finish, Mid-American Conference title and Motor City Bowl win in 1998. The AP voters gave the Herd 75 points - good for 27th place - in the 1999 preseason poll.
When Marshall finished a perfect 13-0, it closed the year at No. 10 (and the same spot in the coaches' poll).
Marshall followed its perfect year with a 36th-place start in the 2000 AP preseason poll. An 8-5 finish (but also another MAC title and Motor City win) didn't deter voters to start the next season.
The Herd was tied for 37th in the AP preseason poll in 2001, but any steam evaporated in an opening-game drubbing at top-ranked Florida.
After the 2002 success, the Herd's major personnel losses (Leftwich, Watts, Chris Crocker, Steve Sciullo, etc.), Marshall didn't get one point from the voting media in the 2003 AP preseason poll. However, a few of then-Coach Bob Pruett's peers still liked MU.
Marshall had 11 points in the 2003 ESPN/USA Today Coaches' preseason poll ... and that's the last time the Herd was seen in a preseason poll until 2014 -- at 32nd in AP and 37th in the newly-sponsored Amway Coaches Poll.