HUNTINGTON – In some college football offenses – even in these days of wide-open spreads, or West Coast pitch-and-catch – the tight end position still can be a glorified big ‘un.
You know, another tackle. A sixth block of granite.
It’s not like that at Marshall. Maybe Coach Doc Holliday’s version of the spread is the South Bank of the Ohio River offense.
In recent times – even when former Coach Mark Snyder was playing power football -- the tight end position included one of the top 10-ranked receivers in school history in Cody Slate (199 career receptions). Then it was future NFL player Lee Smith in 2010, Holliday’s first season.
Last season, the Thundering Herd tight end came in different shapes and sizes, and what had been Smith’s domain became a three-headed prospect – as it will be again in 2012 with hometowner C.J. Crawford, “Gator” Hoskins and Eric Frohnapfel sharing time.
“It’s more tight end by committee now,” said Crawford, a former Huntington High star who played about six postions for the local Highlanders, who also wear the green.
He is back in Herd preseason drills after missing much of spring practice with a left knee sprain. “It’s good, because when we’re in there, Gator, Froh or me, we’re definitely fresh.
“The rotation is good and clean, and I think our offense gives us the opportunity to get the ball. Coach (Mark) Snyder had heavier tight ends. Cody and Lee were definitely heavier, but we still get the ball now.”
Last season, the trio combined for 44 receptions, 366 yards and five touchdowns. In Holliday’s first season, Smith had 38 catches for 358 yards and 3 TDs. Where things are different at the position is where Marshall is different at most positions – speed.
“Every position, tight end, linebacker, the defensive backs, there’s a lot more speed here than there was two years ago,” said the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Crawford, a redshirt junior who had 21 catches for 175 yards and a score last season. “We’ll see when we get the pads on (Friday) if everyone’s a football player and go from there, but right now, we’re fast.
“With the speed, the excitement of the incoming players, their talent, the transfers we have, I think there’s an excitement about the team and on the team. Our goals are set high.”
On a team with only eight seniors and 13 fourth-year juniors, Crawford is one of the elder statesmen. His knowledge of Marshall football is deeper than most of his teammates, given to his growing up in the neighborhood.
Asked if it seems like he arrived in the program just recently or if it has been a long journey getting to the cusp of where the Herd wants to go in Conference USA, Crawford smiles, sighs, then smiles again.
“There are days it doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but there are days when at the same time, it does seem like a very, very long time,” said Crawford, who was ranked as West Virginia’s top prep prospect by Rivals prior to his 2009 signing.
“It’s been hard, really … the coaching change, going to a bowl game, not going to a bowl game, then going again. It seems like I’ve been through a lot here, but maybe the best is yet to come.”
Crawford said the 2011 season will pay dividends this year, because of the good and the bad.
He pointed to wins over Southern Mississippi and East Carolina, which had been thorns in the Herd’s side in the first six seasons in C-USA (a 2-16 record against UCF, ECU, USM from 2005-10) … and some of what didn’t go so well, too.
“Last season, the way we won games, definitely gave us confidence,” Crawford said of the 7-6 record – six wins clinched in the final quarter -- and a bowl victory. “It showed we can fight all four quarters, showed we have stamina, we’re tough, we’ll play hard.
“We’ve been in the weight room this summer getting stronger. Going to a bowl and winning was what we needed. It was a reward at the end. Winning earlier the way we did, over Southern Miss, Louisville, East Carolina.
“We had a bunch of confidence builders with a young team, but what we can’t do is lose focus like we did sometimes last year in games. When you’re looking to have a big year, you can’t let that happen.”
Every player wants to never lose the home games to set up a great season. For C.J. Crawford, the "we must protect this house" saying hits a little closer, for a big year means so much at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, to Marshall University, the city, the county and the entire Tri-State for the home town proud guy.