Nov. 21, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Essray Taliaferro agreed that good things come to those who wait, but he admitted he really wasn’t waiting all that anxiously for what occurred.
The redshirt junior running back had emerged from Marshall’s preseason camp drawing praise from coaches for his effort and production, but then watched as others moved past him on the Thundering Herd depth chart.
Then, a sunny Saturday – in more ways than one – happened for Taliaferro.
“As soon as I saw Remi (Watson) go down, I thought it might be my time,” Taliaferro said after the Herd’s practice Monday. “I needed to get ready, and I just took advantage of it.”
Taliaferro had been fifth among the backs as recently as late September. He rose to fourth when Game 1 starter Travon Van was moved to cornerback (and soon after was injured and has yet to be cleared by team doctors) – but he was still behind redshirt freshmen Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson.
In the Herd’s 44-41 win over Houston on Saturday, Grooms ran for 155 yards, but Butler was sidelined with a left wrist injury. When Watson suffered a left ankle injury that put him out of the game, Taliaferro was the top relief man.
“I thought one day I’d play again like that, but I didn’t know when my chance would come,” the 5-foot-7, 181-pound Taliaferro said. “You work hard, it pays off. That’s the way I look at it.”
Taliaferro got his career high in carries (18) and matched his career best in yards (66) in the win. Now, as the Herd (5-6, 4-3) goes to East Carolina (7-4, 6-1) for a Thanksgiving Friday kickoff with Marshall bowl eligibility hanging on the outcome, MU Coach Doc Holliday said Taliaferro needs to be ready for more handoffs from quarterback Rakeem Cato.
"Tally did a great job in the last game,” Cato said following Saturday’s win, “and right now, he's got another opportunity to put on a showcase."
Grooms will play -- likely start – and Butler will return, Holliday said Tuesday, but Taliaferro is in the picture again on more than the multiple special teams units on which he’s been a regular (Taliaferro has six tackles in coverage this season).
“I really expected that of him,” MU running backs coach JaJuan Seider said Tuesday when asked about Taliaferro’s performance. “He’s a talented back, but the kids that have been playing have produced, but I had no doubt when he stepped into the game he’d do what he did.
“Every kid prepares differently when they know they’re going to play. I kept him involved all year because I figured there’d be a point where he’d play, and he knew you’ve got to be ready at all times. It’s been hard on him, I know, because he’s a kid who probably should have played more this year, but it didn’t happen, with Travon first and then the three freshmen you wanted to see play, and they performed well.
“Like I told Ray, ‘Just be patient.’ I always had faith in him, and he knew it.”
“Taliaferro, if you remember, last year, he’s had to step up at times to get things done and he has, not just this year,” Holliday said. “He’s a solid back. You remember him during camp. He had a good camp, and he’s going to be asked to step up and play again on Friday.”
Taliaferro arrived as an MU walk-on in 2009 and was redshirted. In Holliday’s debut season of 2010, the Ashburn, Va., native was a backup who gained 98 yards on 20 carries, including a 12-for-66 rushing day against Memphis.
Last season, as a third stringer behind Van and Tron Martinez (sitting out this season as a medical redshirt), Taliaferro carried 26 times for 92 yards. Now on scholarship, Taliaferro’s 2012 numbers are 31 carries for 121 yards.
He’s played in all 11 games, but only in the offensive backfield in routs of Western Carolina and Southern Miss before his big contribution against the Cougars.
“It is tough to come out and practice hard every day,” Taliaferro said of his situation with the offense, “but you do what you’re supposed to do and when your number is called, you go make a play.
“I practice the same way, 100 percent, whether it’s special teams, offense, no matter how many reps. There’s no change for me. It might be different situations, but it’s the same preparation.”
Back in August camp, it was Van and Butler and Grooms and Watson and Taliaferro and senior Martin Ward, and Seider said:
"We're talking about four (getting ready to play) and it's not because we don't have four that are good enough, obviously. It's only about four that can't separate themselves from the pack. And yet you expect that when you have young kids like this. They're hungry to prove something. They're not going to go away."
They didn’t, until the injury bug bit. Now, more than three months later, the rotation (Van, Watson and Grooms have gotten starts) has changed.
“(Seider) always says to be prepared because you never know when you’re going to be called upon,” Taliaferro said. “I knew Stew wasn’t going to play (against Houston), but until Remi went down, I wasn’t sure I’d get a chance.
“It would be easy just to prepare for the kind of game you think you should prepare for, but you can’t do that. Definitely, coming into past games, I knew I’d be more in a special teams role, so I concentrated a little more on that.
“Now, this week is different. It’s good to get that kind of opportunity.”