Herd has potential for big 2018 season
HUNTINGTON — There is plenty of room for optimism among those within Marshall University’s fan base as the Thundering Herd prepares for the 2018 football season.
Marshall returns 18 seniors (nine on each side of the football) from a team that won eight games in 2017 and culminated that campaign with an impressive 31-28 win over Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
Still, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has preached to his team to be focused on the future, not the past.
“We have a lot of returning pieces from last year, but potential gets you beat,” Holliday said. “Those guys have to come to work and get better every day for us to reach our goals. The conference is as deep as it has ever been. I think there were nine or 10 bowl teams last year. You’d better come ready to play each week or you’ll get beat.”
While Marshall returns 18 starters back from its 2017 squad, the team will have a pair of new coordinators leading things on each side of the football.
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Offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey brings an up-tempo, motion-filled offense to the Thundering Herd arsenal while defensive coordinator Adam Fuller makes the transition after serving as the linebackers coach for five years.
The Herd is also dealing with a void at quarterback after three-year starter Chase Litton decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft. Litton is now with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Marshall brought in graduate transfer Alex Thomson, a highly touted prospect out of Wagner College, and returned both redshirt freshman Isaiah Green and redshirt sophomore Garet Morrell to compete for the open position.
Thomson, the 6-foot-3, 233-pound quarterback out of Keyport, New Jersey, was coming off a shoulder injury from last season, and early in preseason practice stiffness in that shoulder kept him out for a week, which set the quarterback competition back from Holliday’s intended target date of announcing a starter following camp.
Green and Morrell went through with the first and second units while Thomson was out, but Thomson reemerged late in camp.
No matter who takes the first snaps of the season, that person will have plenty of experienced talent returning around him.
Wide receiver Tyre Brady (6-3, 206, Sr.) headlines the offense after a season with 62 catches for 942 yards and eight scores. He is joined by returning targets Marcel Williams (5-10, 185, Sr.), Willie Johnson (6-foot, 178, So.) and Obi Obialo (6-3, 213, Jr.) in a receiving corps that returns plenty.
The Herd rushing attack is also in good hands with sophomore Tyler King (5-11, 190) and senior Keion Davis (6-1, 215) both gaining more than 800 yards last season. King finished with 820 yards and seven scores while Davis added 812 yards and six scores.
Marshall’s offense will be pushed by an offensive line — coached by former Marshall standout Greg Adkins — that returns all five starters and potentially a sixth with starting experience, pending Nate Devers’ (6-3, 291, Sr.) return from a suspension, which will come into clearer view during game-week.
The Herd defense has experience at each level as well, led by a talented corps of linebackers who will play for first-year coach Byron Thweatt. Senior Chase Hancock (6-2, 228) returns as the leader after compiling 128 tackles and seven pass breakups last year. The unit also returns Omari Cobb (6-4, 223, Jr.), Artis Johnson (6-1, 222, Sr.) and Jaquan Yulee (6-1, 247, So.) while adding Donyae Moody (6-2, 232, Sr.), who missed last season because of a torn ACL.
The defensive front returns fouryear starter 6-7, 280-pound Ryan Bee, but has to replace both defensive ends. Holliday is excited about the prospects of freshmen Koby Cumberlander (6-2, 245) and Darius Hodge (6-2, 251), who sat out last season as non-qualifiers, joining Marquis Couch (6-1, 233, Jr.) at the position. Should the freshmen perform as Holliday expects, the Herd can move junior returnee Ty Tyler (6-3, 262) to the inside, adding him to a middle of the defense that includes Bee and Channing Hames (6-5, 264, Jr.).
Marshall’s secondary is led by returning safeties Malik Gant (6-2, 200, Jr.) and Nazeeh Johnson (5-10, 183, So.) while cornerbacks Chris Jackson (6-foot, 188, Jr.) and Jaylon McClain-Sapp (5-11, 176, Jr.) are also back. Kereon Merrell (5-11, 177, Sr.) and Nirion Washington (6-1, 188, Fr.) will also see time at cornerback while Brandon Drayton (6-2, 196, So.) returns experience at safety.
One area where Holliday has always prided himself on success is special teams, and replacing do-it-all talent Kaare Vedvik will not be easy. Justin Rohrwasser (6-3, 224, Jr.) will take over the placekicking duties while Robert Lefevre (6-2, 196, So.) and Shane McDonough (6-1, 200, Fr.) are battling for the punting job.
Holliday said the return and coverage teams are areas where he’s excited to see his young talent develop this season as well.
“We’ve got some good, young players that we’re going to have to see what they can do and where they can plug in,” he said. “Because of the young players we have that are good players, our special teams have got to continue to get better. That’s part of the reason why we’ve had success around here — because of the way we play special teams around here.”
Marshall’s schedule presents plenty of challenges, including one right out of the gate with the Herd traveling to Miami (Ohio) for a 3:30 p.m. contest to open the season Sept. 1. The Red-Hawks return much of the talent from their 2017 team.
The non-conference portion gets no easier. After the home opener against Eastern Kentucky, Marshall travels to South Carolina before hosting N.C. State prior to jumping into conference play.
“Not only do you go on the road and play Miami (Ohio), but you also get the chance to go on the road and play South Carolina, who is picked second in the East in the SEC and N.C. State is picked in the top three in the league on their side, so those are (all) challenging games,” Holliday said.
Despite the challenges awaiting his team, Holliday knows that there is potential there for a special season, given the pieces returning.
“I’m more excited now than I’ve ever been,” Holliday said. “I like our team.”