Football

Herd Spring Football ends with Thud … type practice on Saturday

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HUNTINGTON — The Marshall Thundering Herd football team had already played the Green-White Scrimmage last Saturday when 2,500 fans and followers crowded into the Chris Cline Athletic Facility to watch Marshall scrimmage last Saturday when it was very rainy and cool in Huntington. Saturday, however, was 65-degrees at 9 a.m. as the Herd hit the field and it was in the mid-80s by the time Marshall practice ended around 11:30 a.m. with a thud.

That is, ended a thud-type practice — where players are not taken to the ground, with no live tackling and no scrimmaging except running plays with a quick whistle — and Marshall stayed cool by wearing shorts in the final of 15 workouts this spring. About 100 fans came out for the last work out of April which was mostly about teaching and reviewing what the Herd learned over the five weeks of three-a-week practices.

Once again, the defense won the coach’s “point” system, with good play and consistent effort on offense and defense have each been given points on every play. The defense outdistanced the offense as they did in the G-W scrimmage last week — where is was 165-to-116 last week — by winning today 123-85.

MUFB 2017 April 28 last spring workout, Doc Holliday watches kick returns as (41) Tramell Carey, (3) Willie Johnson and (30) Simino Walden take turns during drills

While he may not look it here during the kick return portion of Saturday’s practice, Coach Doc Holliday was quite pleased with his team’s spring drills that ended on Saturday. Here Holliday was keeping an eye on (41) Tramell Carey, (3) Willie Johnson and (30) Simino Walden takes turns returning kicks. (HI photos by Greg Perry)

Head Coach Doc Holliday, who had already treated the players last week when they returned to the newly named Vinny Curry Marshall Football Locker Room — renovated with a $200,000 donation by Curry, an end for the Philadelphia Eagles and by donations by other former players of $1,000 each — as well as announcing on Friday the player’s names would return to the back of the jerseys for the regular season for the first time since 2012 — also treated four players who were walk-ons at Marshall to scholarships.

In the morning meeting before practice, sophomore long snapper Matt Beardall  (Merritt Island, Fla.) and redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Aaron Dopson (Hagerstown, Md.) were awarded full scholarships. Then when Holliday called the team up for the final time this spring, he announced junior slot receiver Nick Mathews (Haymarket, Va.) and redshirt sophomore Malik Gant (Washington, D.C.) would both receive full rides to play for the Herd.

“I liked we were able to scrimmage a lot more last week as it was the fourth week of practice,” Holliday said, “and we wanted to come out here today, and this week, and make sure we were becoming a better football team. We didn’t waste a day, now we go into May, get finals done and get the team ready for summer.”

MUFB 2017 April 28 last spring workout, Xavier Gaines looks upfield for fellow QB Christian Schlegel during warmups

Redshirt frosh quarterback Xavier Gaines drops back to throw to Christian Schlegel (No. 19) and is in “shells” – shorts, shoulder pads and helmets – for the final workout of spring football. (HI photo by Greg Perry)

Many thought the Herd would scrimmage today, but extensive team periods on April 15 followed by the G-W Scrimmage indoors last Saturday put Holliday’s team at a point he thought they had hit enough to justify coming out for the last practice in “shells” (basically, everything except practice pants and instead wearing shorts) to review those last two Saturday’s.  Holliday was also happy with the work over the previous 14 practices and most happy about getting players back in today’s workout — like Tony Pittman and Willie Johnson, both in full go green jerseys — and not having any injuries during the spring that can’t be OK by the time summer workouts start.

“We got a few guys back today, and that was good to see,” Holliday said, “and now it is full speed ahead heading into the summer. We don’t have any — well, maybe one guy — who would not be ready to go four weeks from now. That’s where we wanted to be.

“The kids came to work every day. They worked their tails off, and this was the toughest spring since I’ve been here (spring of 2010). They have come out, attacked getting better every day and if you watched, from day one to day 15, you saw improvement everywhere on this team.”

Holliday was obviously very pleased to be able to award four walk-on players with scholarships for the coming season. He talked about how hard it was to be a player who is paying his own way while the other players (up to 85 total) are getting scholarship money for tuition, room, board, book, and other expenses as just allowed recently by the NCAA.

MUFB 2017 April 28 last spring workout, Rodney Allen takes interception away from Tramell Carey

One of the reasons the defense has generally been taking the offense to the woodshed when it comes to winning the points awarded in practice plays like this sweet interception by Rodney Allen may explain why as the redshirt senior corner goes high over redshirt sophomore Tramell Carey for a pick. (HI photo by Greg Perry)

“We have had tremendous success here with our walk-on programs going on eight years now,” Holliday said. “(Essray) Taliferro became a captain and 1,000-yard rusher, Alex Bazzie is still playing (in the CFL for the BC Lions),  you name them, (Clint) Van Horn, (Chris) Jasperse, so many players have walked on for us and became great players and earned scholarships. We announced four today.

“Two of them we did this morning, Matt Beardall — the long snapper — and Aaron Dopson. Then after practice, we announced Nick Mathews who has done a good job (at slot receiver) and Malik Gant, who … if you watched every day of practice, he might be the MVP of the spring. Those guys are not just going on scholarship, they will help us win games.

“Gant took advantage of (CJ Reavis and Kendall Gant) being out this spring. He showed up some for us on special teams last year, but he had a tremendous spring and those guys might have a hard time beating him out.”

As you might expect, the players who receive the scholarships are excited about two reasons. First, the bills they have been paying to attend Marshall are now going to be paid for by a scholarship. Second, they have obviously made an impression on the coaches with their work last season, in the offseason and during the spring sessions.

“It’s a great feeling, something I have been working towards for a long time. It’s something you might even call a dream come true,” Dopson said. “The good thing about it is I get to keep playing, and that is a great thing to my eyes.

“I don’t know how other players feel about being on scholarship, but with all the bills I have had to pay coming from the left and the right — and I love my parents for helping me to get through this — I’m speechless. What a feeling.”

Dopson had a reputation for fighting the Herd’s offensive linemen, and quite a bit of that as a freshman. He decided to channel that energy elsewhere, and that has paid off.

“I have always been a troublemaker,” Dopson said with a laugh. “That’s something that changed as I have matured. I realized I could put that energy into playing better instead of fighting like I did all of my freshman year.”

MUFB 2017 April 28 last spring workout, Chase Litton delivers while frosh Jackson White (13) looks on

Quarterbacks Chase Litton (14) and Jackson White (13) warm up before Saturday’s final practice of spring ball. The Herd had hot dogs, bar-b-ques, and pizza, with lots of water and Gatorade as well, in the end zone following practice. (HI photo by Greg Perry)

Beardall may have been the MVP of the Herd in 2016, when three games into the season the Herd’s starting long snapper, Zach Woods, decided he was not going to continue going to college or playing football and went home to work in his family’s business. So the Herd was playing at the University of Pittsburgh the following week, and true frosh snapper Beardall was told to get ready to make his first start in a pro stadium against an ACC team.

“It’s pretty tough,” Beardall said of being an “unpaid volunteer” or walk-on player. “Amoreto (Curraj) and Kaare (Vedvik) told me they got a scholarship after their first year just before the season started. So I was, OK, that would be great. Then going through last year and into the spring, I thought it might come this August and I was OK with that. But then the coaches called me out this morning at the “Competitive Excellence” meeting before practice with Coach (Luke) Day (the Herd’s head strength and conditioning coach). I took me by surprise and it is a great feeling.

“I got the first start at Pitt. It was Wednesday morning that week, and I had already got a workout in and Coach (Todd) Goebbel called me up to his office. He said, ‘You’re the guy this week, so get ready for it because Zach is gone.’ I was like, OK, I’ll be ready and so Wednesday’s practice was my first day of starting.

“It didn’t really hit me until that first punt snap — wow, I am out here with 60,000-people watching me run down the field against Pitt — wow, it was pretty crazy. I mean, an NFL stadium — wow, it was pretty crazy. But it was an awesome experience.”

Holliday was also happy with the work on the offensive front, which lost starters Van Horn and Michael Selby to graduation, then lost tackle Fred Binot to a transfer headed into spring. Coach Alex Mirabal has done his usual good job of pulling the starting five together as a group ready for the challenge this fall.

“I’m excited about where they are right now, and we have a long time before we have to go play, but I’m excited about that group. Levi Brown, he has gone from 270 to almost 300-pounds, and that’s good weight gain because he still can run, he is still athletics,” Holliday said. “(Jordan) Dowrey finally healthy for an entire spring, and so is (Nate) Dever, and Sandley (Jean-Felix) is probably playing his best football right now and young guys like Tarik (Adams) and (Alex) Locklear, young guys who can play and we have more young guys on the second team who will continue to develop. We will be ready in August.”

Marshall will come back in late May to start summer lifting, conditioning and workouts — which the actual football staff can now be involved in, since a rule change last year. A rule change this year will eliminate the two-a-day practices for all of Division I and II football in the NCAA, but they have added a week to the preseason calendar so coaches will still have 29 practice days until the opener — for Marshall, on September 2, at home, against a long-time nemesis from the Mid-American Conference, the Miami-Ohio RedHawks.

In a series that dates back over 100 years, back to 1905’s first meeting in Huntington — a 35-5 loss for the Herd to the then-Redskins of Miami-Ohio — and Miami leads the all-time series 30-12-1, with three of those wins coming for Coach Cam Henderson in the Buckeye Conference days of 1937-38-39. However, Marshall has owned the series since 1997, with eight wins in the past 10 games and three in a row (2004, 2013 and 2014). The RedHawks lost six games to open 2016, then won six in a row to close before falling 17-16 to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl to finish 6-7. The Herd was 3-9 last season, the first losing season since 2012, after winning 30+ games, three bowls, two C-USA East Division titles and one C-USA Championship.

Conference USA media days are July 19-20, at the DFW Marriott North in Irving, Texas.

THUNDER NOTES:

No Herd players were taken in the NFL Draft this year, but there has been quite a bit of moment in the free agent ranks for Herd. So far, five players (two from 2016 team) have signed as unrestricted free agents (UFA) or for rookie mini-camps which start next week.

In addition to these players, Clint Van Horn was talking with three teams and is expected to sign with one of those, and other players may still go tonight or Sunday as teams expand rosters to 90 players. As of 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28:

  • Emanuel Byrd – TE – Pittsburgh Steelers and/or Kansas City Chiefs – rookie mini-camp
  • Michael Clark – WR – Green Bay Packers – rookie mini-camp
  • Justin Hunt – WR – Kansas City Chiefs – rookie mini-camp
  • Deon-Tay McManus – WR – Green Bay Packers – rookie mini-camp
  • Gary Thompson – DE – Atlanta Falcons – UFA

—The football uniforms at Marshall will be the same in 2017, with one addition. The last names of the players will be added to the back of the jerseys, a decision made by eighth-year head coach Doc Holliday. “We are doing it primarily for two reasons,” Holliday said in a Herdzone.com story written by Chuck McGill.

“First, after last season, we believed it was important to evaluate all aspects of our football program, and one of the issues we spent a lot of time on is accountability. I’ve said it before, but there’s no hiding in this program, and whether you’re on the field with that uniform on or off the field in the classroom and in our community, you will be held accountable.”

Holliday took the names off the jerseys prior to the 2013 season, putting it on for bowl games only. The Herd is 4-0 under Holliday in bowl games.

Names first graced the backs of the game jerseys purchased for the 1991 Division I-AA national championship game against Youngstown State, a 25-17 loss in Statesboro, Ga. Marshall also had special game jerseys before beating YSU 31-28 in the 1992 National Championship, taking down Coach Jim Tressel’s Penguins at the then Marshall University Stadium.

In 1993, Marshall made a switch to black shoes and added black trim to the helmets, jerseys, and pants, and the names became a permanent part of the uniform — which has changed little since then, just a change of fabric to a Kelly green that is lighter than the old tricot mesh jerseys of the 1990s up through about 2012.

Before the 2013 season opener against Miami University, Marshall had played 274 consecutive games with names on uniforms, including 10 double-digit win seasons. In those jerseys with names on them, Marshall won two Southern Conference titles, two National Championships, five Mid-American Conference titles, won 5-of-7 bowls from 1997-2004 and became a team recognized by its helmet and jerseys during highlights on ESPN and other outlets.

From Western Michigan on Thursday night, when Corey Davis went to the Tennessee Titans in the first round with the No. 5 selection:

MUFB Randy Moss 2017 Only MAC first round receivers in NFL Draft

Herd and Broncos fans will be watching for how Davis matches up with Moss in the NFL. BTW – Moss:

218 games

193 starts

 

982 catches (#15 all-time) 15,292 yards (#3) 15.6 yards per catch 70.1 yards per game (#22) 82-long 156 TDs (#2) 226 +10 yards 78 +20 yards 704 1st Downs

Overall, 2016 was a down year for the Big 12 in football, and the letdown continued through the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft said Sports Day (sportsday.dallasnews.com), which included some backhanded compliments to Conference USA football on Friday.

“Only five Big 12 players were taken in the first three rounds Thursday and Friday. Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, OU running back Joe Mixon, Texas running back D’Onta Foreman, West Virginia’s Rasul Douglas and Kansas State’s Jordan Willis.

“The AAC and Conference-USA had more than the Big 12 with six each” as tweeted by Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) on Friday.

“While it’s not surprising that the AAC, with Clemson and Florida State leading the way, would outpace the Big 12. C-USA is not exactly known as a football powerhouse, with schools like Marshall, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Rice, and others.

“Well, there’s still Saturday. The Big 12 will likely pick up the pace in rounds four through seven.”

Two Oklahoma players were then drafted in round four and WVU had another players taken in the fifth. In the sixth, Oklahoma had another player selected and Oklahoma State had a player picked one man later, then TCU and K-State each had a player taken in the seventh round, as did Ok. State with five selections to go. C-USA had no players taken in the fourth round, but then had two in the fifth round and one in the sixth. So make it Big 12 − 13, C-USA – 9.

Other Marshall opponents drafted included Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham (3rd, 80) by the Colts and linebacker Blair Brown (5th, 148) by the Jaguars. The MAC had a strong draft, with 12 players selected between the first and the seventh round, with three from Western Michigan and three from Toledo.

Pitt had back James Conner go (3rd, 105) to the Steelers, guard Dorian Johnson (4th, 115) to the Cardinals, quarterback Nathan Peterman (5th, 171) went to the Bills, tackle Adam Bisnowaty (6th, 200) went to the Giants and defensive end Ejuan Price (7th, 234)went to the Rams.

UConn, who the Herd beat in the St. Pete Bowl in 2015, had safety Obi Melifonwu (2nd, 56) drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders — in a couple of years, for now still in Oakland, Calif., for two more seasons.

Purdue, who the Herd beat in Huntington on a Labor Day weekend Sunday opener in 2015, had receiver DeAngelo Yancey (5th, 175) go to the Packers. Louisville had long snapper Colin Holba (6th, 213) was selected by the Steelers and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (7th, 230) went to the Redskins in the final round.

CONFERENCE USA’S 2017 NFL DRAFTEES

Round – Overall – Player – Position – C-USA School – NFL Team

Second – 38 – Forrest Lamp – OL – WKU – Los Angeles Chargers

Third – 65 – Larry Ogunjobi – DT – Charlotte – Cleveland Browns

Third – 72 – Taywan Taylor – WR – WKU – Tennessee Titans

Third – 82 – Carlos Henderson – WR – Louisiana Tech – Denver Broncos

Third – 100 – Jonnu Smith – TE – FIU – Tennessee Titans

Third – 103 – Trey Hendrickson – DE – Florida Atlantic – New Orleans Saints

Fifth – 177 – Trent Taylor – WR – Louisiana Tech – San Francisco 49ers

Fifth – 182 – Aaron Jones – RB – UTEP – Green Bay Packers

Sixth – 191 – Xavier Woods – S – Louisiana Tech – Dallas Cowboys

About Woody Woodrum

Senior Editor and columnist/writer for Herd Insider since 2003, with Kindred Communications on radio for Marshall football/men's basketball pregame and postgame shows since 1996 and with First Sentry Bank Sportsline (Also Scott on Sports, Sideline Sports and Herd Insider Sportsline) since 1997. Married to Liz (12-22-1990) and one son, Tre' (11-7-1997). National Sportswriters & Sportscasters West Virginia Broadcaster of the Year winner for radio, 2000; won W.Va. Broadcasters Best Talk Show in 2013 with co-host Paul Swann and W.Va. Broadcasters Best Play-by-Play in 2015 with Jason Toy (Huntington at South Charleston, state AAA semifinals). Member of (College) Football Writers Association of America, (College) Basketball Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Color commentator for Marshall football (1999-2000), for Marshall basketball (2004-2016) and Marshall baseball (2004-2016). Color for high school football at Spring Valley (1999-2008), Cabell Midland (2009-2012) and Huntington (W.Va.) High School (2013-2016).

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