Nov. 6, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – There’s the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and even the Marshall Homecoming Parade, but there’s another parade that’s become special.
It’s the parade to the end zone by the Thundering Herd football team.
This season, 17 Herd players have scored touchdowns.
Right here in River City, this parade isn’t led by Professor Harold Hill of “Music Man” fame. The leader of this kelly green line to that 10-by-53.33-yard rectangle is tight end Harold “Gator” Hoskins, whose nine TDs tie the school record for scoring catches by a tight end.
Those 17 touchdown-scorers share the season lead nationally (FBS) with Navy. It also could be a Marshall record, once some deeper digging can be done. The most I could find, going back four decades, was 16 TD-scorers in a Herd single season (in 1994 and ’96).
Coach Doc Holliday’s first two Marshall teams (2010 and ’11) each had 15 touchdown scorers.
That was the number before Saturday in a Herd win over Memphis, when freshman fullback Devon Johnson and redshirt freshman wide receiver Davonte Allen got their first career scores to become Nos. 16 and 17 in the end zone.
“When you’ve got as many weapons as we have, you can’t just key on one player,” Hoskins said Monday.
Eleven Herd players have caught touchdown passes. Five players have rushed for scores (running back Kevin Grooms is on both lists, and with 7 TDs ranks second to Hoskins). Devon Arrington had an interception return to score against Western Carolina, and Derek Mitchell scored on a blocked punt pickup at Purdue.
One guy who hasn’t found the end zone with his feet is quarterback Rakeem Cato
, but the sophomore quarterback has thrown 27 scoring passes, which ranks fifth nationally.
Cato said he wasn’t surprised when Allen and Demetrius Evans – he also caught a scoring pass Saturday – played well in relief of senior Aaron Dobson, who suffered an injury on the game’s first play.
“It makes it a lot easier with a lot of guys going out there and making big plays for us,” said Cato, who shared the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honor with East Carolina QB Shane Carden. “You just go out there and trust in those guys.
“The way they played didn’t surprise me. Evans is one of the top route-runners on the team … Allen can be a big-time wideout for us. He’s going to have a huge part in our offense in the future.
“I tell ‘em all the time, to set yourself up as a big-time player, big-time players make big-time plays. And that’s what those guys did. They always go hard in practice and it showed in the game.”
With the Herd (4-5, 3-2) heading to Legion Field for Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. (EST) kickoff against UAB (2-7, 1-4), Marshall is tied for 11th nationally in touchdowns (with Nevada) with 48 and is No. 8 in red-zone TD percentage (76.1 percent).
Holliday’s first two Marshall squads scored 33 and 35 touchdowns, respectively. The school record is 87 TDs, set by the final Division I-AA championship season (15-0) of 1996.
Of all of the Herd’s touchdown-makers this season, perhaps the most unlikely to have produced as he has is the leader. Hoskins, a junior from Gainesville, Fla., has tied the Herd tight end TD record previously shared by Sean Doctor (1987) and Mike Bartrum (1992).
“It hasn’t reached the point yet where I know when I’m going score,” said Hoskins, who had three touchdowns last season. “I just go out there and run my route as best I can, try to get open.”
When the season begin, Hoskins was in a three-TE rotation with Eric Frohnapfel and C.J. Crawford, but with the Floridian’s productivity (30 catches), he’s emerged to get most of the playing time.
“I really didn’t see it developing that way,” Hoskins said. “Coming into the season, I didn’t see or know I’d be getting this many plays, this many catches, this many touchdowns. All three of us play. We all work hard, we all play. Cato’s finding me and I’m just making some plays.
“I thought maybe five or six (TD catches this season). No way was I expecting to break a record or tie a record. I’m just getting open, and Cato gets me the ball. It just happens from there.”
Nine of the 17 Herd players with touchdowns are freshmen or sophomores, something Holliday said after Saturday’s win was crucial, having young players produce when a Dobson goes down.
“They had to and it was great to see,” Holliday said after the 38-28 win. “A lot of times you get put in that situation with the young kids thrown into the fire and they don’t respond. Davonte made the biggest play of the game with that (fourth-quarter) catch where he was pushed out of bounds and did a nice job at getting back in and went up at the highest point and made the catch.
“He’s going to be a good player. Unfortunately for him, he’s had injuries. He missed all spring and he missed a lot of fall camp. He hadn’t developed. We think he’s going to be a really good player and he’s starting to get there. He’s just getting there a little slower because of the injury issues he’s had.”
Evans and Allen share the same Belle Glade, Fla., roots that previously produced star receivers like Jessie Hester, Santonio Holmes, Reidel Anthony, Willie Beamon, John Ford (Anthony’s uncle) and Travis Benjamin.
So, while Hoskins knows practice isn’t prime time, he wasn’t worried about Dobson’s two replacements who found their way to the end zone against the Tigers.
“In practice, we try to put them in tough situations, because when you get into a game, it will be easier for them,” Hoskins said. “Get them motivated … Nothing in the game about them surprised me; I’ve seen them make those plays over and over in practice.
“Coming out of high school, Davonte was a big, deep threat. We see it every day. But you’ve got to be focused. When you’re out there running around, you’ve got to think about nothing but practice, and go out and catch the ball.
“This is practice, but that’s where you prove you belong.”
And that’s where the road to the end zone begins.