BOGACZYK: Herd Seniors - 384 Starts, and Counting
The Word on the Herd-Nov. 27, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – There are many ways to gauge the contribution of the 2014 Marshall football seniors to the rise of the Thundering Herd program under Coach Doc Holliday.
Two bowl wins, with another – perhaps a high-profile New Year’s bowl – on the horizon. Two Conference USA Championship Game appearances, the school’s first. A pair of double-digit victory seasons, the first of those since 2002. A return to the national rankings, too.
How about one of the nation’s most prolific offenses for three years with creative coordinator Bill Legg calling the shots? Or, one of the nation’s most improved defenses under hard-nosed coordinator Chuck Heater the last two seasons? And getting there with repeated retooling of a coaching staff that had has 13 coaching staff changes in four years.
There are multiple Herd players getting individual national acclaim that didn’t happen as recently as two years ago, and the national exposure this season has included outlets from ESPN to USA Today to Sports Illustrated to The New York Times.
It’s good to have a calculator to measure the 2014 senior class impact in another fashion as the No. 19/20 Herd (11-0, 7-0 Conference USA) stages Senior Day with Friday’s noon kickoff at Edwards Stadium against Western Kentucky (6-5, 3-4).
The 19 Marshall seniors have combined for 384 game starts.
Of the 19, 16 have started at least one game. And should defensive end Arnold Blackmon and offensive tackle Trevor Mendelson make their 10th Herd starts – as expected -- against the Hilltoppers, 14 of the 19 will have made at least 10 career starts.
"There is no question about the work these kids have put into it and how far they’ve come and the program has come," Holliday said at his Monday presser. "I’ve mentioned some but I should have mentioned all of them.
"We can talk about Mendelson and what a tremendous role he’s played. There is not a better leader I’ve been associated with than (center Chris) Jasperse and how hard he has worked. Fro (tight end Eric Frohnapfel) is just as important with what he has done. Cheese (Blake Brooks) isn’t out there right now (knee injury), but he’s played a big part. Then you have (quarterback Rakeem) Cato and (slot receiver Tommy) Shuler.
"On the defensive side, (Neville) Hewitt and (Jermaine) Holmes, and how good those two guys have been (at linebacker)? Then you have (cornerback) Darryl Roberts and how about (defensive tackle James Rouse? Sticking around six years – there are some great stories of guys who have given a lot to this program.
"All of those seniors … every single one of them is just as important. We’re going to miss them. It’s going to be hard for me on Friday, and our fans need to show up, and I know they will. They need to honor these guys the way they deserve to be honored because there are 19 special guys who have contributed to and mean so much to this program."
Rouse is a sixth-year player, getting an extra year because he missed most of two seasons with back and Achilles injuries and surgeries. Jasperse and Mendelson were 2010 walk-ons who redshirted their first season. Place-kicker Justin Haig, Roberts, starting defensive end Ra’Shawde Myers, backup defensive tackle Malcolm Strong (knee injury) and backup receiver Demetrius Evans were 2010 scholarship signees.
Cato, Shuler, Frohnapfel, Holmes, wideout Craig Wilkins and backup linebackers Raheem Waiters and Cortez Carter were 2011 recruits who played as true freshmen. Blackmon and Hewitt were junior college transfers who arrived at MU last season. Brooks was a 2011 transfer from Division II Fairmont State. Walk-on running back Kevin Rodriguez is in his third year in the program.
"A lot of these guys had to play as true freshmen, and in that year, they went to a bowl game and won and beat a Louisville team that was tied for the Big East (Conference) championship," Holliday said of the 2011 class. "They had the 16th-toughest schedule in America (non-league games at West Virginia, Louisville and Ohio and home against Virginia Tech), and they came out and won seven games with Cato and Shuler and a bunch of freshmen.
"They weren’t ready to play, but they played because they had to. To see how far they’ve come from that point until now has been remarkable … to see that leadership that has developed.
"It’s been a lot of fun with them. These 19 guys are a great group. You hate to see them go, but you’re happy for them. It’s just a tremendous group."
Jasperse and Cato are four-year starters. Roberts will make his 40th career start against WKU. Shuler owns 35 starts, Holmes 34 and Rouse 30. Haig has been the Herd’s principal place-kicker for three seasons and is nine PATs (and 27 kick points) away from Tim Openlander’s Herd career records (1994-96).
Myers has a double reason to celebrate Friday. It is also his 23rd birthday.
Roberts said he’s grateful to play a major role in not just the ascent of the Herd program, but in particular the defensive revitalization under Holliday and Heater.
"Running out there for Senior Day, being part of the group that brought this back, it’s going to be a lot of excitement," said Roberts, who missed the 2012 season with an ankle fracture and now tops C-USA in passes defended this season. "I’m just happy and grateful to be able to be part of something great, happy to make our fans happy.
"We’ve just tried to get it back to what Marshall had been doing, and that’s winning … winning championships … I thought we’d just be part of the building process, but eventually we had everybody buying in, and we put all of the pieces together in the right way, and then I figured we could do it this soon.
"The seniors, I’d say we had a big part in it. Obviously, our coaches preach to us all the time, our leaders and our playmakers have got to step up and make plays, and even if it’s off the field you’ve got to take leadership and get the younger guys in to watch film.
"Just like the small things, and I just think that made a big difference. And the coaches, too, how they stepped up their game, elevated their game as far as coaching. So, I think all of that put together really helped us out."
Starting with his own Senior Day as a West Virginia linebacker wearing No. 56, Holliday’s fifth of those special occasions as the Herd coach will be his 37th consecutive season with a Senior Day.
There shouldn’t be much doubt that this one will be among his most memorable. After all, it involves his first two recruiting classes as a head coach.
"All of those 19 seniors are responsible for getting this program back to where our fan base wanted it – with us winning championships," Holliday said. "A lot of those seniors getting honored are going to go down as legends; a lot of those players -- the Catos, the Hewitts, the Holmeses, the Shulers, the Jasperses and a lot more of them -- will go down as some of the best players to ever play here.
"I know our guys are excited to be back home (after a tough win at UAB), and they’re excited to have a packed house. I know our fans will show up and honor these guys the right way, because they deserve it."