With bowl eligibility on the line in the finale at East Carolina, the Herd lost 65-59 in double overtime, a game that said all about the 2012 season in one contest.
Sophomore QB Rakeem Cato connected on 31-of-40 passes for 318 yards and five touchdowns, and Tommy Shuler set a new Marshall single-season catch number as he finished the game with 14 receptions for 110 on the year, breaking a record set in 1987.
But while the Herd piled up great numbers, ECU gained 555 yards, didn’t turn the ball over and scored pretty much at will to keep the Herd from a second bowl under Holliday, and a third bowl in four years for the program.
Marshall didn’t play an easy schedule, and suffered losses at West Virginia, at Ohio, at Purdue, at UAB and at East Carolina, and also had home losses to Tulsa and UCF (the West Division and East Division champs. All went to bowls except UAB.
Plenty of playmakers return in 2013
Cato will be a junior, after winning first team All-Conference USA honors and Offensive Player of the Year in the league.
His numbers were 406 completions on 584 attempts (69.5 percent), for 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions.
Also returning are Shuler (110 catches for 1,138 yards and 6 TDs), tight end Gator Hoskins (who set a record for MU tight ends with 10 TDs, catching 35 for 374 yards), and most all of the players on the offensive side, losing only one lineman, three receivers (although the No. 2 and 3 wide outs last year) and one back-up running back on the offensive side.
Backup QB Blake Frohnapfel threw for 18-of-23 for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 81 yards as well, looking good against ECU with a 51-yard rushing touchdown in the finale, the longest run by a MU QB since 2007.
Former NFL player Thomas Brown was hired as Marshall University’s football running backs coach. Brown joined the Thundering Herd after one season on the Chattanooga coaching staff, and then a brief two months at Georgia State before coming to MU.
In the new coach’s backfield of 2013, all the “baby” backs — freshmen in 2012 — are sophomores, as Kevin Grooms (All-C-USA Frosh team), Steward Butler and Remi Watson combined for 1,617 yards and 18 TDs.
Don’t forget junior Ray Taliaferro added 251 more years and two more scores, stepping up with a start against ECU in the 12th game of the year.
On special teams, punter Tyler Williams was one of the best in the nation, with a MU best 45.2 yards per punt average, 16 placed inside the 20-yard line and only four touchbacks.
With his 24-yard fourth-quarter field goal and eight extra points, Justin Haig scored 99 points on the season, the most by a Herd kicker since 115 by Tim Openlander in 1995.
Haig finished the season 60-for-60 on point-after-attempts (PAT), extending the Herd's streak of made PAT's to 33 games and 125 consecutive attempts.
Concerns about staff comings-and-goings and defense
Marshall had the largest turnover of staff in the history of the program, as Holliday has replaced everyone on his staff but Bill Legg, the offensive coordinator, since coming to Marshall in December of 2009, and Scott Sinclair is his fifth strength and conditioning coach in Holliday’s fourth year.
Legg, safeties coach Todd Hartley and defensive line coach J.C. Price are the only coaches coming back from 2012, and all three of them will coach new positions: Legg moving from tight ends to quarterbacks, and Price coaching defensive tackles duties with soon to be signed assistant Sean Cronin, who coached the Herd in 2010, coaching ends.
Cronin comes back to MU with new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, who Cronin worked for last year at Temple — and who, by the way, is Cronin's father-in-law.
Hartley will replace Legg at tight ends, and take over for the departed Jujuan Seider as recruiting coordinator, as Heater will coach the secondary.
Also on board is new linebackers coach Adam Fuller, coordinator last year for Chattanooga; Alex Mirabel comes from FIU to coach the offensive line; and Mike Furrey comes to Marshall after turning around the Kentucky Christian program in Grayson, Ky., to coach the Herd wide receivers.
Furrey and the offense will have to replace Aaron Dobson — preparing to head to the National Football League as a late first or second round selection in April’s NFL Draft — Antavious Wilson and slot Andre-Snipes Booker, but Shuler heads up a group of great young receivers, along with two Penn State transfers and Hoskins and Eric Frohnapfel (13-129-2 TDs) back at tight end.
Demetrius Evans (32 catches for 284 yards, 2 TDs), Davonte Allen (12-190-2), Jazz King (15-151-2) Craig Wilkins (14-122-1) and Dameon Garrett (1-5) have all played and caught balls.
Joining the Herd receivers will be former Nittany Lions wide out Shawney Kersey and slot Devon Smith, both with one season to play for Marshall.
John Bruhin is the only returning starter lost from the offensive line, and Holliday’s staff has been loading up on linemen since day one, so this unit looks good.
Chris Jasperse is a junior who has started two years, mostly at center but also at guard when Cameron Dees got three starts last year for Bruhin.
Also back on the offensive line are players who have been starters like Gage Niemeyer, Garrett Scott, Josh Lovell, Alex Schooler, Jordan Jeffries and a number of players with some game experience.
Defensively? Heater put it bluntly in a recent Herd Insider interview with Jack Bogaczyk, “I can tell you we’ve got issues at linebacker and safety.”
Marshall lost only three seniors, but two of them were starting safeties and an outside linebacker.
The safeties led the team in tackles, not always a bad sign — but it was in this case, as many of those tackles were 10-to-20 yards downfield.
All is not lost, as Heater continued, “Our defensive front, a lot of guys have played a lot of football there. Our corners, if we can keep people healthy, we’ve got guys who have played.”
D.J. Hunter (102 tackles in ’12, 3rd on team) will move back from being an undersized linebacker to safety, the Herd signed a junior college safety, Taj Letman to bolster that unit, and highly-touted A.J. Leggett, who was a redshirt last year as a true frosh, will move from corner to safety.
Linebackers returning are Jermaine Holmes (82 tackles), Cortez Carter (36 tkls), Billy Mitchell (34 tkls) and Deon Meadows (23 tkls), and joining them are Kent Turene (a prop) and Fork Union newcomer Stefan Houston.
Evan McKelvey and and Raheem Waiters will open at OLB, but might also go back to safety.
The defensive line will welcome the return defensive ends Alex Bazzie (80 tkls, 9 tackles-for-loss and 2 sacks) and Jeremiah Taylor (54 tkls, 8.5 tfl and 5.5 sacks) as well as the injured James Rouse, who missed all of the 2012 season
At the defensive tackles, Brandon Sparrow 52 tkls, 9.0 tfl and 5.0 sacks) and Jarquez Samuel (9 tkls); and welcoming JUCO Arnold Blackmon, who will miss the spring with Marshall while finishing up Junior College but is expected to help at end.
Corners feature Penn State transfer and senior Derrick Thomas (53 tackles, one pick), Monterius Lovett (25 tackles, two int) and Keith Baxter (33 tackles, one int), the return of injured Darryl Roberts and prop Corey Tindal.
Snipes-Booker was the main return man the last two years, but Shuler and Kelson had three punt returns in 2012, while Grooms, Butler and Taliaferro combines on 17 kick returns.
Covering kicks and punts better will be a high priority in 2013, as opponents returned three kicks and one punt for touchdowns, and averaged 25.1 per kick return.
Expectations are up for Thundering Herd in new C-USA
Most observers knew Holliday was in a rebuild, getting to a bowl in the second year might have raised the expectations high for 2012, but mostly the Herd missed NFL players Vinny Curry, Devon Johnson and Omar Brown — who, with another former MU player, Albert McClellan, won a Super Bowl last year with the Ravens — and other seniors from 2011.
This year, the Herd has about 20 seniors and 25 juniors rising, compared to eight seniors last year — the least since the Marshall plane crash of 1970 killed most of the team — and two of which were graduate transfers from Boston College at safety, playing just the one year.
Cato is the top returning quarterback in the league, and Marshall has all-league players in Shuler, Grooms, Hunter, Hoskins, Holmes, Bazzie, Williams and Dees all coming back, all of whom were named to an All-C-USA team or freshman team by the league or other media outlet.
Finally, the schedule, like the times, are a’ changing for the Herd and Conference USA.
Out with the old, as Houston-Memphis-SMU-UCF — and possibly Tulsa in 2014, along with East Carolina and Tulane at that time — head to the league that must be named and welcomes new members (for football) Florida Atlantic, Florida International (FIU), Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and UT-San Antonio (UTSA).
How will this affect Marshall, who travels to both defending C-USA champs Tulsa (a Thursday night TV game), to both Florida schools and to Middle Tennessee (another Thursday TV game), but will host East Division foes East Carolina, UAB and Southern Miss, along with UTSA, in Huntington.
Marshall will also host Miami of Ohio and Gardner-Webb, and travels to nearby rivals Virginia Tech and Ohio, giving the Herd’s fans a couple of easy road trips to Blacksburg, Va. and Athens, Ohio.
Will the exchange of teams add up for Holliday?
An 8-5 season would be the minimum many fans are calling for — many looking at the new C-USA and wanting 9-10 wins — but any bowl and challenging for the East title will be steps forward for the program that posted a record of 114-25 from 1990-99, along with two I-AA national championships, six conference titles, two undefeated seasons, Nos. 10 and 25 rankings and three bowl wins in four appearances, including the first bowl in a half-century.
That program fell to just 67-56 from 2000-09, with three bowl wins and a loss, two conference titles and one national ranking of No. 22, with four head coaches coming and going.
The fans are ready to return to glory, starting in 2013.
Marshall Football Staff for 2013
John “Doc” Holliday, Head Coach (4th year)
Bill Legg, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Todd Hartley, Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator/Punt return/Kickoff return
Alex Mirabal, Offensive Line
Mike Furrey, Wide Receivers
Thomas Brown, Running Backs
Chuck Heater, Defensive Coordinator/Secondary
J.C. Price, Defensive Tackles
Adam Fuller, Linebackers/Kickoff/Punt-block
Sean Cronin, Defensive Ends
Tyson Gale, Graduate Assistant/Secondary
Rodney Prince, Graduate Assistant/Linebackers
Scott Sinclair, Strength and Conditioning Coach
Mark Gale, Assistant Athletic Director for Football Ops
Starters Returning/Lost from 2012 (season starts)
Offense — Returning
QB-Rakeem Cato (12)
RB-Kevin Grooms (3), Remi Watson (4), Essray Taliaferro (1)
WR-Tommy Shuler (10), Demetrius Evans (3), Craig Wilkins (1)
TE-Gator Hoskins (11)
OL-Chris Jasperse (12), Jordan Jeffries (12), Garrett Scott (7), Josh Lovell (6), Gage Niemeyer (5), Alex Schooler (5), Cameron Dees (3)
Offense — Lost
WR-Antavious Wilson (12), Aaron Dobson (9), Andre’ Snipes-Booker (2), Jermaine Kelson (1)
OL-John Bruhin (8)
Defense — Returning
DL-Jeremiah Taylor (12), Brandon Sparrow (12), Alex Bazzie (12), Ra’Shawde Myers (1), Ken Smith (1)
LB-D.J. Hunter (11)*, Jermaine Holmes (9), Billy Mitchell (5), Deon Meadows (1), Raheem Waiters (1)
DB-Keith Baxter (9), Derrick Thomas (8), Monterius Lovett (7)
*Hunter played linebacker in 2012, will move back to safety for spring of 2013
Defense — Lost
DL-Marques Aiken (10)
LB-Devin Arrington (9)
DB-Dominick LeGrande (12), Okechukwu Okoroha (12)
Special Teams — Returning
K-Justin Haig (12 games; 13-16 FG; 60-60 PAT)
KO-Justin Haig (63 total kickoffs, avg. 57.3), Trent Martin (20 total kickoffs, avg. 53.6)
P-Tyler Williams (12 games; 43/45.2 per punt)
LS-Matt Cincotta (12 games)
H-Blake Frohnapfel (12 games)
KR-Kevin Grooms (10 total returns, 19.1 per return)
PR-Tommy Shuler (2 total returns, 7.5 per return)
Special Teams — Lost
KR-Andre’ Snipes-Booker (31 total returns, 20.8 per return)
PR-Andre’ Snipes-Booker (11 total returns, 5.2 per return)
New Marshall Football Players, Spring 2013
#14 Kevin Anderson
QB, 6-2, 204
Boca Raton HS
Boca Raton, Fla.
January 2013 enrollee
Anderson chose Marshall over FCS members Illinois State and Jacksonville (Ala.) State … Completed 40-of-81 passes for 509 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions in 2012 before suffering a season-ending injury (broken collarbone) on Sept. 28 … Completed 123-of-254 passes for 1,712 yards and 11 touchdowns with nine interceptions, carried 59 times for 107 yards and three scores as a junior … Former Marshall star QB Eric Kresser (1996 Division I-AA national title and 15-0 record) has been Anderson’s private quarterback coach since the player was an eighth grader … Kresser: "Kevin has many strengths. Besides his arm strength, size and athleticism, he is a leader and a winner. He has the mentality you want in a quarterback.” … Gives the Herd for 2013 at QB a junior (Rakeem Cato), a red-shirt sophomore (Blake Frohnapfel), a red-shirt freshman (Gunnar Holcombe) and a true frosh in Anderson, with five years to play four.
#75 Tyler Combs
OL 6-5, 275
Lawrence County HS
January 2013 enrollee
A class of 2012 prospect whom Marshall asked to gray-shirt, Combs did not have any other scholarship offers because he committed to the Thundering Herd in February 2011, effectively ending his recruiting … Nickname is “Big Country” … Named All-State first team by Louisville Courier-Journal as junior and senior and was a four-year starter for Bulldogs … Blocked for an offense that averaged more than 400 yards per game and had 100 "pancake" (flattened defender) blocks … Had 70 tackles at DT for LCHS as junior … From same high school that produced MU Hall of Fame member and former Herd assistant coach Phil Ratliff (now at Charlotte).
#3 Stefan Houston
LB, 6-3, 200
Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy / Clarksburg HS
January 2013 enrollee
Houston runs a 4.4 in the 40, a long, limber athlete with uncanny speed and power, according to Rivals … Signed with Maryland last February, turning down offers from West Virginia, East Carolina and Rutgers, after starring at Clarksburg (Md.) High … Was not academically eligible, and chose to attend prep school at Fork Union; Houston enrolled at Marshall in January (prep school, one-semester players do not sign) … As a 2011 high school senior before picking the Terps, was ranked by Rivals at No. 55 at OLB in the nation and was the No. 14-ranked prospect in Maryland … Had more than 100 tackles and two interceptions as high school senior … Also played WR and some “Wildcat” at QB … Named All-State for Classes 4A and 3A. Played in Crab Bowl (Maryland all-star game) … Statistics unavailable for 2012 because Fork Union does not keep them for its post-graduate squad.
#5 Shawney Kersey
WR, 6-1, 197
Penn State University / Woodbury HS
January 2013 enrollee
Kersey transferred to Marshall from PSU and enrolled as graduate student in January; will be a football graduate student for Herd in 2013 … Played only two games for Penn State last season, catching six passes for 44 yards, before leaving the Nittany Lion program … Earned his degree in Telecommunications … As 2011 junior, had five catches for 108 yards, and made three starts and playing 185 snaps … As sophomore in 2010, played in 10 games at receiver and on special teams … Played at Woodbury High, missing a portion of his senior season due to injury. Was an All-Group I second-team pick as a junior, with 35 receptions for 534 yards and four touchdowns … Also returned three kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns … On defense, had 55 tackles and three interceptions … Had offers out of high school from Michigan State, Virginia, Iowa, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, East Carolina and Rutgers … Ranked in class of 2009 as No. 13 in New Jersey and No. 55 nationally at WR by Rivals.
#30 Taj Letman
S, 6-3, 195
Holmes (Miss.) CC / Houston County HS (Warner-Robbins, Ga.)
January 2013 enrollee
Letman will be sophomore, with three seasons of eligibility remaining … Signed Dec. 19, picked Marshall over Arizona, Baylor, Charlotte, FIU, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Purdue and South Alabama … Did not play 2012 season, suffered a season-ending injury on the first day of preseason practice, when he tore a ligament in his right ring finger and underwent surgery … Clocked at 4.42 in 40-yard dash … High jumped 6-8 in Georgia high school regional meet … Had 59 tackles and 10 pass breakups for Holmes CC in 2011.
#33 Devon Smith
WR, 5-7, 150
Penn State University / Westlake HS (Waldorf, Md.)
White Plains, Md.
Smith transferred to Marshall last summer from Penn State, was a redshirt in 2012 season and will be senior in 2013 season … Starred at Westlake High in Waldorf, Md. … For Penn State, played 13 games in 2011 and caught 25 passes for 402 yards and two touchdowns and also returned kicks … As a sophomore (2010), made six starts and played in 13 games, with 27 receptions for 363 yards and one TD … He also ranked second in Big Ten in 2010 with a 12.9-yard punt return average … Played in 10 games as a 2009 freshman, getting four catches for 30 yards, and returned five kickoffs for 91 yards … In class of 2009, ranked 29th nationally as athlete by Rivals and ranked as no. 13 prospect in Maryland … Was clocked then at 4.19 and 4.23 in the 40, and was named the fastest athlete by Rivals in the country's entire recruiting class.
#19 Corey Tindal
CB, 5-10, 175
Atlanta Sports Academy / Boyd Anderson HS
Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.
Enrolled in 2012 as non-qualifier
Tindal originally signed with FIU but didn’t qualify, then took a prep season at Atlanta Sports Academy … As a senior, he had scholarship offers from Bowling Green, Buffalo, Marshall, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Toledo, Western Kentucky and Western Michigan … All-Broward County as a senior, ranked by Rivals as the nation’s No. 52 cornerback prospect in 2011, and was No. 7 Broward County prospect … Played in Dade-Broward All-Star Game … Had 20 tackles, 2 interceptions on defense and 1,300 yards on 187 carries in 15 touchdowns (total) as BAHA senior … Described by Rivals as a “versatile, explosive athlete.”
#50 Kent Turene
LB, 6-3, 230
Atlanta Sports Academy / Boyd Anderson HS
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Enrolled in 2012 as non-qualifier
Turene was originally a Southern Cal commit who signed with Georgia, but didn’t qualify academically and went for a prep season at Atlanta Sports Academy … Was the nation’s No. 18 inside LB prospect in the Class of 2011 and No. 4 prospect in Broward County (Fla.) … As a Boyd Anderson High School senior, had offers from Cal, UCF, Cincinnati, Florida, FAU, FIU, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Marshall, Maryland, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Purdue, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, USC, Wake Forest, West Virginia and Western Kentucky … Picked the Bulldogs over the Cornhuskers, the Red Raiders and the Trojans … Had 230 career tackles in high school to go with 20 sacks, 4 interceptions and 8 forced fumbles … All-State first team selection.Also
Also new this spring is linebacker Carl Yonter, a 6-foo-t-1, 200-pound player from Coronado H.S. in Las Vegas, Nev. Last fall for Coronado, he had 51 tackles as an outside linebacker, five sacks, forced and recovered two fumbles for the 4-5 Cougars and was named second team all-Sunrise Southwest Conference.
Angelo Jean-Louis, a wide receiver (6-0, 185) from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, via Palm Beach Central HS in Wellington, Fla.was supposed to enroll in January at Marshall, but is an academic casulty, according to Chuck Landon of The Herald-Dispatch.
Another receiver who is an academic casulty, according to Doug Smock of The Charleston Gazette, was Deontay McManus (6-2, 220) from Atlanta Sports Academy via Dunbar HS, Baltimore, Md.
Leaving the team for the spring were returning defensive tackle Marques Aiken, who graduated and is passing up this final year of eligibility, and receiver Jermaine Kelson, who caught 7 passes for 69 yards last year and is leaving for personal reasons.