Sep 9, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – “The Battle of the Bell” is a new ring for some Marshall football players.
That’s because they’re neophytes to the series.
That could be a big plus for the Thundering Herd when it heads to Peden Stadium on Saturday night to face longtime neighboring rival Ohio.
There will be a lot of new faces for the Bobcats (1-1) -- winners of the last two in a series dating to 1905 – to contend with as Herd coach Doc Holliday continues the talent upgrade in his program.
Holliday referenced just that last Saturday night after Marshall (2-0) blanked FCS member Gardner-Webb, 55-0 in the Herd’s first shutout since it blanked Ohio 28-0 to close the 2003 season.
Asked about being able to force six turnovers – after takeaways were lacking a season ago – Holliday made his point.
"I think we have about 14 different faces out there making those plays,” the Herd coach said. “If you look at the guys getting those turnovers, most of them weren't out there playing a year ago.
“There are a lot of new faces out there and the coaches have done a great job of coaching them up. When you play extremely hard, good things will happen for you. Those guys played hard out there tonight and that's good to see.”
One of those roster newcomers (or returnees from being shelved by injury in 2012) is rush end Gary Thompson. The redshirt freshman from California had an eye-opening performance backing up graduate student Alex Bazzie at the Herd’s “Fox” position.
“I’ve gotten to play some games now, and the coaches trust me to go into the game and make plays,” Thompson said Monday at the Herd players’ weekly interview session. “I believe I did that, and it does make me feel like more a part of the team now.”
Thompson matched backup nose tackle Josh Brown
for the Herd high in tackles against Gardner-Webb, with six. He also recovered a third-quarter fumble, got a half-sack and a quarterback hurry.
Those last two categories could be big for Marshall against Ohio redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton.
In two starts – and wins – against the Herd, Tettleton is 40-for-64 with six touchdowns and no interceptions and has yet to be sacked. The Herd was credited with five hurries of Tettleton last season – three of those by Bazzie -- in OU’s 27-24 win at Edwards Stadium. Tettleton also has rushed 16 times for 88 yards and a score in those two “Bell” games.
Thompson, a one-time USC and Arizona prospect who sat out last season as an academic non-qualifier, brings unconventional skills to his position. The 6-foot-1 Thompson weighs 227 pounds … and has strong safety speed and agility.
“It doesn’t matter how fast I come off the ball,” Thompson said when asked if his start has been timed. “The (actual) time doesn’t matter. As long as it’s faster than the offensive lineman across from me, that’s fast enough.”
He was impressing even before August camp started. During summer testing by new Herd strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair and his staff, Thompson’s 555-pound squat ranked fifth on the team. His 34-inch vertical jump ranked sixth and his long jump of 9-9½ was topped by only two who play in the row behind him – linebackers Evan McKelvey and Neville Hewitt.
Sinclair uses a strength index number (bench, squat, clean total, divided by body weight), and Thompson had a 5.44. That ranked 11th overall on a list mostly led by skill guys -- running backs, safeties and receivers. No linemen were at that number and only one linebacker (Jermaine Holmes) topped Thompson’s number.
The Bobcats have become known for their savvy, strong play by a beefy offensive front. The Ohio front five averages 301 pounds. So, Thompson is giving away a lot of girth … well, that’s nothing new, he said.
“Going against offensive linemen, if they get hands on me, I don’t think I really can move, because I’m so small,” he said. “So, I don’t let them get their hands on me. I use my abilities, my speed and strength.”
Have linemen from Miami (Ohio) and Gardner-Webb gotten their hands on Thompson in the first two Herd wins?
“No, they have not,” Thompson said, smiling. “And I intend to keep it like that because I don’t anyone to handle me.”
At Helix high School in suburban San Diego – the Herd located Thompson after it had recruited former MU running back Travon Van (now at Montana) at the same high school – Thompson played mostly outside linebacker.
“In high school I played both (positions), and at outside linebacker I was in a two-point (stance), but I did have my hand on the ground like now, so I’m kind of used to it,” Thompson said. “Up there, I’m usually the smallest guy, so size is my disadvantage, but my speed is an advantage.
So, pretty much coming off the edge with my speed is what I use.’
In high school, Thompson said he chased quarterbacks mostly from a standing start, a sprinter’s start … and had 14 sacks and 23 hurries as a Helix senior in 2011. Holliday and his staff considered Thompson as a linebacker or defensive end, but eventually sent Thompson to the front because of the need for depth in the pass rush.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve made a statement,” Thompson said when asked if he thought that his play in the first two games had done that. “I pretty much went out and did what I was able to do, just try to play my game. That (Fox) position fits me pretty well, and that’s where they put me, a spot they needed me, so that’s where I’ll be.”
He’s not only sacking things, but soaking things in, too.
“What I’ve learned from (Bazzie and other veteran teammates) is pretty much everything here,” Thompson said. “If it weren’t for them and my coaches teaching me, and me asking questions, I don’t think I’d be able to be in the position I am, in the game.
“I don’t think there’s been much of a transition for me. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, keep soaking in coaching, getting coached, keep asking questions … keep getting better.”
# # #
Thompson is one of 14 freshmen who have played for the Herd in the first two games this season.
The six true freshmen to lose their “redshirts” are receivers Justin Hunt and Josh Knight, center Michael Selby, safety Tiquan Lang, cornerback Michael Johnson and walk-on kickoff man Amoreto Curraj.
The eight redshirt frosh to see action are Thompson; defensive tackles Brown and Joe Massaquoi; linebacker Kent Turene; starting nickel Corey Tindal; safety A.J. Leggett; corner Andre Scott; and receiver Chris Alston.
# # #
Marshall’s Sept. 21 game at Virginia Tech had a kickoff time solidified Monday by telecast networks and the ACC – noon at Lane Stadium.
The TV network won’t be decided until this coming weekend, likely on Sunday morning. The options are ESPNU, ESPNews and ESPN3. The Marshall-Ohio game Saturday at 8 p.m. is an ESPNews telecast.