MU inks 17 in early signing period
TAMPA, Fla. — The cycle is coming full circle this week for Marshall University’s football program.
Marshall’s seniors had their final so-called practice with the Thundering Herd (8-4) on Wednesday — a walk-through at Raymond James Stadium in advance of the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, an 8 p.m. Thursday clash with the University of South Florida Bulls (7-5) that is televised on ESPN.
At the same time, Marshall’s coaching staff was welcoming new members of their football family as the December signing period for recruits opened.
Marshall had 17 players sign National Letters of Intent to join the Herd as part of the Class of 2019.
Perhaps the most notable recruit was 6-foot-8, 250-pound offensive lineman Josh Ball out of Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.
Ball began his career at Florida State University and started nine games at left tackle in 2017, but, according to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, he was suspended by the school in May 2018 following a dating violence accusation by another student in September 2017.
Charges were never filed against the Fredericksburg, Virginia, native, but he went to Butler Community College while serving his suspension from Florida State. It was expected he would return to the Seminoles after being reinstated, but, in a statement he released last week on Twitter, he announced that he would not do so.
“I have made the determination to stay closer to family and not return to Florida State even though I have been cleared and in good standing to do so by the Florida State administration,” Ball’s statement read.
The statement was released one day before he visited Huntington and met with Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and football head coach Doc Holliday.
Hamrick confirmed he and Holliday have discussed the situation numerous times with Ball and his family — not just during last week’s visit. Marshall’s athletic department also issued a statement in reference to Ball on Wednesday.
“We are fully aware of Josh’s situation at Florida State,” the statement said. “We have done our due diligence in reviewing all available information, as we do with any student-athlete who enters our program. We are comfortable with the information we have gathered and all of the individuals with whom we have spoken are confident that Josh will embrace this opportunity to represent Marshall Athletics and this university with class.”
Marshall shored up many needs, especially at linebacker, where they signed five players.
Three of those five linebackers came from the state of Tennessee: Fulton High School teammates Deshawn Page and J’Coryan Anderson and White Station High School product Eli Neal. Marshall offensive line coach Greg Adkins was in charge of their recruitment.
Page was the Class 5A Mr. Football in Tennessee, amassing 76 tackles (66 solo) with 12.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and a forced fumble defensively while adding 809 total yards and 11 touchdowns on offense. Anderson made 60 tackles and the duo led Fulton to a 10-2 record. Neal finished 2018 with 95 tackles and two interceptions.
The other two linebackers taken can fill hybrid roles, which Holliday has always been big on. Cardinal Gibbons (Florida) High School product Sidney Porter and Jenkins High School talent Jeremy Smith are three-star recruits who also played defensive back in high school.
Marshall signed three instate products on Wednesday in George Washington High School quarterback Grant Wells, University High School wide receiver Amir Richardson and Wheeling Park High School offensive lineman Tristen Bittner. All three were Class AAA all-state first-team selections.
Wells threw for 2,538 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 597 yards and 12 scores for the Patriots. Richardson was a playmaker on both sides of the football for the Hawks in 2018 and was once committed to West Virginia University. Bittner is a powerful 6-4, 295-pound force who committed to the Herd in September.
As has been the case throughout Holliday’s tenure, Florida was a focal point of the Marshall recruiting class with five players coming from the Sunshine State.
One that will catch the eye of fans based on where he’s from is quarterback Maurice Underwood (6-3, 170), who comes from Miami Central High School, the alma mater of former Herd record-setters Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler. Cato was Underwood’s quarterbacks coach at Miami Central.
Holliday also secured a pair of players from Port St. Lucie, Florida, in Centennial High School running back Cedrick Wilcos — the day’s first signee — and Mariner High School safety Rashawn Hunter. Wilcox rushed for 926 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018 while Hunter had 42 tackles and two interceptions. Hunter showed his versatility by making contributions at quarterback and in the return game.
One player who could have hand-delivered his NLI to Holliday at the bowl game Tampa, Florida, native Micah Abraham, a 5-10, 170-pound defensive back from East Lake High School. Abraham is the son of former NFL Pro Bowl defensive back Donnie Abrahamand his brother Devin Abrahamwas a standout safety for South Florida.
Marshall’s pipeline from the Tidewater area of Virginia continued with the signing of Elijah Alston, a 6-3, 250-pound defensive lineman from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia.
On offense, the Herd added another sizable force to go with Ball in 6-6, 280-pound Myers Park (North Carolina) High School offensive lineman Juwan Truesdale out of the Charlotte area.
Success with tight ends from the junior college circuit continued when Marshall added 6-4, 235-pound target Zack Leininger, who comes to Huntington from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College.
The day’s final signing came late Wednesday as Broc Thompson, a 6-3, 180-pound wide receiver from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia sent in his NLI following a signing ceremony.
The members of this class count toward the 25 initials Marshall is allotted toward the Class of 2019. That class will be filled over the next six weeks as recruiting picks back up in the new year.
The final National Signing Day Feb. 6, 2019. At that time, Wednesday’s signees and February signees will fill out the Class of 2019.