Dec. 24, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Looming tall, here in National Statuary Hall, are the marble and bronze representations of our nation’s founding fathers and transcendent figures from the 50 states.
On Christmas Eve, one of those U.S. Capitol visitors gazing up at those statues and the massive Capitol rotunda fresco and Frieze of American History was one of the founding fathers of Marshall’s latest football success.
And hey, he’s one of the team’s honest-to-goodness fathers, too.
Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, back from the shelf after three months following a fracture to the L5 disc in his lower back, is primed for one last game in a Thundering Herd uniform – the Military Bowl against Maryland (7-5) on Friday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
The redshirt senior – a walk-on to the Herd in coach Doc Holliday’s first Marshall spring after Taylor returned to school and football following telemarketing work in downtown Huntington, W.Va. – toured the Capitol with his teammates Tuesday morning.
To say the Herd (9-4) was impressed would be an understatement. Cellphones were busy for photo-snapping, players posing with various statues and busts, most notably that of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Then later, after practice until dark on the turf at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes School in nearby Alexandria, Va., Holliday gave his team a surprise.
He unveiled a special patriotic and military-salute helmet the Herd will wear in the bowl game.
The helmet’s base color remains white. The “75” to honor those who died in the 1970 Marshall football team plane crash in 1970 remains on the left side of the helmet. That tribute began for a win at Tulsa on Nov. 14, the first time the Herd had played a road game on that anniversary of the tragedy.
The Marshall “block M” will still adorn the right side of the helmet, but instead of it being in kelly green outlined by black, the M will be in red, white and blue. And the usual green stripes that run from front to back of the helmet will be replaced by red and white stripes.
At the front center of the helmet, where “HERD” usually appears, the team will offer a tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces. The players’ helmets will be split among five branches – Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.
“It’s very special. It’s awesome … We want to represent our people in the service and veterans well,” Herd junior quarter back Rakeem Cato said.
“It’s our way to honor the military and our country,” Holliday said. “Being in the Military Bowl, it’s appropriate to do this, and our university and our team can show our support for those who are in active service now, and all of our veterans, for what they have done and do on an every-day basis for our nation.”
Marshall also will play the bowl with players’ names on the backs of their green jerseys for the first time this season. Holliday took names off uniforms back in the spring to display the Herd’s need and desire to play for one goal.
“I said if we took care of business and reached a bowl game, the names would go back on,” the Herd coach said. “This team has showed great leadership and played as one. They’ve done a great job.”
Holliday’s team is headquartered in downtown Washington for bowl preparations and team functions until Friday morning, when the Herd will bus to the Naval Academy for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff (ESPN telecast) against the ACC-to-Big Ten-bound Terrapins.
Taylor, a South Point, Ohio, native, is here not only for one final game with his teammates, but along on the trip are his wife, Nakita, and children Jaiden and Kyra.
Holliday has praised the Herd seniors – like Taylor – for their leadership and changing the culture of the program all season. And while the Herd needs heavy coats in the Mid-Atlantic winter chill to get out and see monuments and more, the players are making the most of one of a handful of bowls that isn’t played in warmer climes.
“It’s a little different,” Taylor said of the nation’s capital. “The chance to go see the Capitol and all that stuff, it’s the first time I’ve been up here and it’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s an educational experience, and for me, just the chance to come back and hang around with your teammates, see the sights, experience some different things, it’s all good.”
Taylor, who will turn 26 on March 1, is the oldest among the Herd players. He said the opportunity to play his final game – and not a home game – with his wife and kids in the stands (and making the trip on one of the team buses with him) is a unique opportunity.
“That is really special,” Taylor said. “This being my last game, to have them up here with me to experience this whole thing is just great, and I won’t forget it.”
Taylor left the Herd’s Week 3 loss at Ohio because of his injury, which he figures may have occurred as early as the opening win over Miami of Ohio. He was told right from the start that if he were to have a chance to return to play, Marshall would need to reach the postseason.
He is “100 percent, ready to go, cleared, ready to do it one more time,” he said. “No nervousness …. Well, maybe a little bit, but it’s all excitement. I’m just ready to go.”
Taylor was in his third season as a starter (25 career starts) when injured. Redshirt junior Ra’Shawde Myers filled Taylor’s right end spot after the latter was hurt, and Myers has thrived as the starter.
Taylor doesn’t know how much he will play in relief in the Military Bowl, but he knows he will get one last chance in a green Herd jersey.
The veteran defensive end said he will play his swansong against one of the most versatile offenses he has seen in a Marshall uniform.
“I think the biggest concern we have (on defense) is they’re really dynamic,” Taylor said of the Terps. “They do a lot of things that we’ve seen all year. They run the power. They do some perimeter stuff, too, so it’s all kind of a mixture of everything we’ve seen.
“We’ve got to make sure we stay focused enough to handle it one at a time.
“Their quarterback (C.J. Brown), I think one thing he doesn’t get enough credit for is his mobility,” Taylor said. “I think in the Virginia Tech game, he beat them (in overtime) because the guys couldn’t get him on the ground and he was scrambling for 10, 15 yards a pop.
“So that’s what we’re going to have to do, keep him in the pocket and make plays when we get back there.”
After visiting a city of monuments, Taylor hopes the Herd can build on this Military Bowl appearance that could be a springboard to even more success in 2014 for Holliday’s program that returns much of its talent.
“Going out like this, it’s like a fairy tale,” said Taylor who gained his MU undergraduate degree on Dec. 15. “Having the story I had, and the way I came in and going through Marshall, it’s just a fairy tale ending for me.”