Dec. 27, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Senioritis struck Marshall’s football program this season. It was the good kind.
Coach Doc Holliday bids farewell to 14 seniors in today’s Military Bowl against Maryland at 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Another senior, fifth-year defensive tackle James Rouse, plans to return in 2014 missing nearly two full seasons due to injuries and two major surgeries.
If only the four-year record is considered, you’d probably say Holliday’s four-year run is pretty average, with a 26-24 record entering today’s game. However, in taking a 9-4 record into the date with the conference-transitioning Terps, this MU football senior bunch has boosted the program in a significant way.
“Anytime you have a group of seniors who, in order to get where you want to go, they have to play their best football in their careers,” Holliday said. “And I think they’ve done that. From (running back Essray) Taliaferro, to (defensive end Alex) Bazzie, to a Gator (Hoskins, tight end) and (nose tackle) Brandon Sparrow to (offensive tackle) Garrett Scott, every one of them on down the line, they’ve had their best years their senior year, which has been critical for us. The leadership they provided is huge.”
Holliday, hired at Marshall four years and 10 days ago, finishes this season with five redshirt seniors (four active) who were on scholarship as signees for former coach Mark Snyder – Rouse, offensive guard Alex Schooler, cornerback Monterius Lovett, backup defensive lineman Matt Pickett and shelved offensive tackle Jordan Jeffries.
The other fifth-year survivors – Bazzie, Taliaferro and backup linebacker and special teams staple Derek Mitchell
– were Snyder walk-ons.
Holliday’s second bowl team loses eight starters – wideout Devon Smith, Hoskins, offensive linemen Scott and Schooler, Taliaferro, Bazzie, Lovett and Sparrow.
Six are backups – defensive linemen Jeremiah Taylor and Pickett; offensive tackles Gage Niemeyer and Jeffries; cornerback Derrick Thomas; and Mitchell. Taylor, Niemeyer, Jeffries and Thomas are former starters. Jeffries had a career-ending hip injury and remains on crutches after major surgery.
Holliday has praised his veterans throughout the 2013 season, which included the Herd’s first appearance in a Conference USA Championship Game in MU’s nine seasons in the league.
“It’s critical when your seniors buy in, because then the rest of the football team will follow their leadership. And they have bought in from Day 1 – but not just the seniors. There’s a lot of leadership on this football team from players who are juniors, sophomores and freshmen, and we’ll be looking to them to keep doing that as we move forward.
“These guys changed the culture. We found ways to win games instead of finding ways to lose them. That's a culture in our program. When you go eight or nine years finding ways to lose game, it takes a while to get out of that culture.
“That culture is starting to change. Marshall had never beaten Tulsa. You have to find a way to go win the game and that's the important thing. Instead of finding a way to lose, we found ways to win most of the time. I see the culture starting to change and these seniors played a big part in that.”
The 2013 Herd finished a school-best (by two games) 7-1 in C-USA play. The exiting seniors reached two bowls. And a win over the Terrapins today would give Marshall a 10-win year for the first time since 2002 (an 11-2 finish).
“We had 19 captains chosen (including nine seniors, chosen by the coaching staff) during the season,” Holliday said. “The leadership those guys have shown is huge. They’ve taken care of business on and off the field, set a great example.”
The Herd coach said he didn’t expect this melded class of Snyder and Holliday recruits and walk-ons to turn out as it has.
“To be honest, no, not really,” Holliday said. “There are only about three of them out there playing right now who were on scholarship when I got here (Lovett, Schooler, Pickett), and then Taliaferro, Bazzie and Derek Mitchell came as walk-ons (and Taylor walked on in Holliday’s first spring, 2010). And, of course, there’s Rouse … not a lot that were here.
“Now, that being said, when we came in, our first class, the Gators (Hoskins) and Garrett Scotts, all those guys have really developed. I thought, unfortunately, we couldn’t redshirt Garrett and Gator that first year, because we needed them, being in the situation we were in. We couldn’t allow that to happen. They’ve done a tremendous job. I’d love to have both of them back for another year, but we needed them to play then as true freshmen.”
The Herd will have three of its five elected season captains back in 2014, including team MVP Rouse. The captains who are playing their last games in the Military Bowl are Lovett and Hoskins.
“We took care of business week-after-week,” Holliday said. “This football team cares about winning. There are three things that will keep you from getting where you want to go. Those are accountability, not being selfish and getting complacent.
“You get better or you get worse. You don't stay the same. The one thing that this football team has done is to get better every week. These guys were serious about football, handled adversity, like the way we came back and won at FAU and Tulsa.”
If the aforementioned eight senior starters get their final starts in the Military Bowl, Holliday’s team will lose 258 career starts.
However, using statistics entering the bowl game, the Herd will lose only 39 percent of its rushing yards, 38 percent of its receiving yards, 31 percent of its scoring and just 17 percent of its tackles.
Bazzie is the only senior among Marshall’s top 11 in tackles – just one reason why Holliday and the Herd are so optimistic about the future in the program.
“These seniors, this team, has set a tone, west a foundation to get Marshall football back to where we want it, where our fans and the community want it,” Holliday said. “They’ve helped us take a big step forward.
“Now, we’ve got a huge step in this bowl game against Maryland, an ACC team heading to the Big Ten. If we can make that step, we not only send those seniors out the right way, but also set the tone for next year.”