HUNTINGTON - Doc Holliday and his team went out at 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, the last Saturday the Herd will hit the field this fall without game uniforms on.
Marshall football went through all phases of the pregame warmups, including skill players out first, the entire team walking to the end zone for stretching and individual drills leading up to the kickoff of the game.
The Herd’s first and second team players ran Marshall’s offensive and defensive sets against the scout team who wore some numbers familiar to the West Virginia offense and worked on special teams as well during the two-hour workout.
“I thought today was good, and we had some situations come up we needed to come up, and that’s why you what you do, a dry run for game day, with substitutions and such, and you want any problems to happen today,” said Head Coach Doc Holliday.
“We have this week to correct those problems and move on.”
Holliday was pleased with the overall tempo of the practice, but still there are five more days of work — starting with the review of Saturday’s work in the Sunday video sessions — before Marshall boards the buses to head north for a matchup with No. 11 West Virginia, a noon kickoff on Sept. 1 televised nationally by the FX Network (channel 65 on Huntington’s Comcast cable).
“We did get into every situation you can get into with special teams today, with substitutions and personnel running in and out, and it was pretty clean,” said Holliday. “The message to our team now is you have worked your tail off, spent hours and hours with a lot invested since January, so let’s make sure we stay focused on our system, but there is still a lot of time between now and Saturday.”
Holliday got an extra-week of practice time in camp this year, as Marshall does not start fall classes until Monday, Aug. 27.
But while the coach normally would rather get the first week of classes under the team’s belt, to smooth out any rough spots in starting the semester, but this year Holliday was happy his rather young team — with only nine seniors, three of those transfers from Boston College and Penn State — he appreciated the extra time to just focus on football.
“When you have a young football team like we have, the extra meeting time was invaluable this week, the numbers of extra practices were invaluable and we could spend extra time with those kids getting ready for those games, so the way it fell, I liked it.
“Now, tomorrow, we have to a great job as a staff to make sure they understand where to go to class, what the building are, where they need to be (Monday). Those guys will be fine.”
Holliday knows he has a few days to polish his team on offense and defense before they make the trip to WVU, where Marshall is 0-for-11 all-time since 1911 and 0-for-6 in the seven game “Friends of Coal Bowl” series since then Gov. Joe Manchin cobbled together a series of meetings between the Mountain State’s only two Division I football programs with four games at West Virginia, two games at Marshall and a seventh game to the winner of the first two-of-three games.
“You never know,” said Holliday of an opening game, and what might or might not happen. “I know we have made improvements to our talent level offensively, and I like where we are to this point, but there are a lot of unknowns in that first game, until you actually go out there and play that first game.
“I am anxious too, as a head coach and as a coach, period, to see where we are. We are playing an excellent football team, a top ten football team, to see where we are.”
Rakeem Cato ready for year two as Marshall's starting quarterback, and for opener next Saturday at No. 11 West Virginia. (Herd Insider file photo by Greg Perry)
HUNTINGTON - Marshall's second-year starting quarterback Rakeem Cato is another member of the Thundering Herd looking forward to the first game, as the sophomore was a true freshman starter for the Thundering Herd last year when Marshall and West Virginia ground through three quarters of rain, storm and lighting delays before calling the game after hours of both teams sitting around, trying to go out, warm up and get started again to just being herded back to the locker rooms at Milan Puskar Stadium.
West Virginia led 34-13 when the game was finally called early in the fourth quarter, with many of the fans gone and delays of over four hours since the kickoff, and no guarantee the game could be finished with more storms expected.
Cato assured reporters he was ready for all he would face in his first start, but now has confided it was a much tougher atmosphere than anything he had faced at Miami Central High School in Florida, and the storm delays added to that greatly.
“It was crazy,” Cato said of that game. “A lot of rain. Going in, and coming out and going in again … we were getting hungry, it was not a normal football game.
“I loved the crowd, and they played a big part during the first quarter, but I was calm and settled after that. I made lots of good decisions (for my first game), making some good throws and not turning the ball over. You have to avoid turnovers in any game, and go out there and have fun.”
Cato is ready for what could be the final “Friends of Coal Bowl” game for his next three seasons with the Herd, and he thinks the Marshall defense is much improved to this matchup with the high-powered Mountaineer offense waiting on them a week from today.
“They are trying to go out there and get stops. They get stops, and that allows us to go out there and get scores. Special teams needs to go out and play its part, getting us good field position.
“We have to do our part in every aspect of the game. Everything, every player just has to calm down and think about what they have been coached to do when we get in that situation next week, just remember where they started from (here at Marshall) and go from there, playing fundamental football.”
Coaches often fall back on the old saw, “We take them one game at a time,” but with an in-state rival opening the season, and possibly for the final time for many of the current players for West Virginia and for Marshall, Cato understands what this game means to the fans of each program, especially those who follow him and the Thundering Herd.
“You have put up or shut up in a game like this,” said Cato. “You need to go out and give it your all, not only for you but for the M — and what it represents — on the side of your helmet.
“I think that is very important. Instead of worrying about the name (on the back of the jersey), worry about representing that M on the side of your helmet and think about everything that has happened at Marshall — the accident, everything that the M represents.”
The accident would be the Nov. 14, 1970 crash of the Marshall chartered plane, returning from a game at East Carolina, which killed 38 players, five coaches and 75 persons in all.
Cato, like the many quarterbacks from Reggie Oliver and the “Young” Thundering Herd of 1971 to 2010 starter Brian Anderson, understands wearing the Kelly green and white at Marshall is different over the last 42 years — and that’s what makes it special for fans of the program every time the Thundering Herd hits the field.
Cato’s statements, and his play this spring and in fall camp, show a real maturity of the player who started eight games as a true freshman, leading the team to a winning season and a bowl victory last season.
Now, Cato seems poised for more.
And, certainly, Herd fans are as well, and it all starts at Noon next Saturday at Mountaineer Field.