Dec. 25, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
WASHINGTON, D.C. – When Essray Taliaferro called his family with news of Marshall’s 2013 bowl bid, he probably didn’t do a Bing Crosby takeoff into “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Yet, that’s where the Thundering Herd’s starting running back is today, in his hometown at Marshall’s downtown hotel headquarters, just a 5-minute Metro ride from his home.
And when the Herd (9-4) heads east Friday on U.S. 50 to Annapolis, Md., and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to face Maryland (7-5) in the sixth annual Military Bowl, Taliaferro will return to a venue where he played in two conference title games – and won -- as a high schooler.
“I grew up about 5 minutes from here,” Taliaferro said on Christmas morning, as he was one of about a dozen Herd players who played games and handed out new toys to children and family members from a D.C. homeless shelter. “It’s a straight shot down E Street for me to get home.
“This is all familiar to me, all home. I went there the other night for a while, the first night here (Monday). It was great to be able to do that.”
Taliaferro and his teammates enjoyed visiting with the helping the children from the D.C. General Emergency Family Shelter. The former hospital on Massachusetts Avenue SE – near RFK Stadium – is home to many who have nowhere else to go.
The session was especially meaningful to Taliaferro, considering it literally hit close to home.
“You know, these kids live in a shelter,” the Marshall running back said. “It’s good to see you can put a smile on someone’s face. That’s one of the simpler things in life, really.
“We don’t realize how blessed you are until you see someone less fortunate, these kids just happy and thrilled just to get toys. These toys might be the only ones these kids get for Christmas, so it makes your heart feel warm.”
The 5-foot-9, 183-pound Taliaferro has been among the mainstays for the 2013 Herd – albeit unexpectedly from some quarters.
He starred as an emergency starter in last season’s finale – a double-overtime loss – at East Carolina, which is his father’s alma mater. The older Essray Taliaferro (now a Washington D.C., police inspector) lettered four years (1984-87 seasons) as an ECU linebacker from Smithfield, Va.
This season, Taliaferro was expected to finish his career playing behind two or three younger Herd backs. It didn’t happen. He won the starting job and hasn’t given it up.
Now, he approaches the Military Bowl with 1,059 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. If he can gain 73 yards in his career-ending game, he will get to 1,132 yards – the most for a Herd back since Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 1,523 in 2006.
Asked to sum up his Herd career that was mostly about playing a big role on special teams until 2013, Taliaferro paused before answering.
“It started off rough, kind of shaky,” said Taliaferro, who walked on at Marshall under former coach Mark Snyder, then joined current seniors Alex Bazzie and Derek Mitchell in talking coach Doc Holliday into keeping them on the roster. “It ended up – not just individually, but as a program …
“As time moved on and passed, we got better, and my role on the team got bigger, so it ended the right way. And like they say, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
Reminded that he wasn’t given much chance of starting this season, but that he didn’t back off, Taliaferro nodded.
“I wasn’t raised that way,” he said. “My parents always told me if things aren’t going your way, change it, find a way to change it.”
Taliaferro had rushed for only 313 career yards when he went for 130 in 27 carries in the bowl-eliminating loss at East Carolina to end 2012. This season, he has five 100-yard rushing games, including a career high 161 against ECU and 105 the last time the Herd faced an ACC team, at Virginia Tech in late September. He also posted three of those 100s in a row (Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss, UAB).
Now, he also returns to the stadium where he helped DeMatha Catholic to the 2006 and ’07 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles over rival Good Counsel. Those were Taliaferro’s sophomore and junior seasons, and he moved to Briar Woods High in Ashburn, Va., as a senior, where he was named a Virginia Group AA Dulles District Player of the Year.
“We won championships twice at that (Navy) stadium at DeMatha, so the arena has good memories for me,” Taliaferro said. “Those were my first times playing in a college stadium, and it was different. Everything was so big, and it was a big thrill and it made me think that maybe I could play college football one day, and play there one day.
“Now, I get to go back there for a college game, my last one, a bowl game. It’s just a relief that my family’s from this area can make a short trip and come to see me, instead of traveling 7 hours (to Marshall’s Edwards Stadium) or even further for another bowl. It just feels good to know I’ll have all of my family here for my last game.
“I never thought my last game would end up back here. It’s just mind-boggling, and it will be a real thrill for me to go out there Friday.”