HUNTINGTON - There are three scholarship running backs in the Marshall camp this spring after the early departure of the man named Marshall.
With Darius Marshall declaring for the NFL draft, the Thundering Herd is going to need contributions of all three this fall, even if an incoming recruit or two stands out immediately.
Running backs coach JuJuan Seider, in his first season as a full-time college assistant, isn't terribly worried. Much to the contrary - he sees a gold mine.
Martin Ward and Andre Booker are running well in the Herd's spring drills, which reached the one-third mark Wednesday. And Terrell Edwards-Maye, the taller elder statesman of the group, is fighting for his role. Literally, at times.
"We've got some thunder - Martin's both thunder and lightning," Seider said. "Booker's just lightning and Terrell is thunder. We've got what we need, in pieces."
Ward is the leading returning rusher, with 393 yards on 82 carries, with three touchdowns. He started sluggishly in the season opener with Marshall under suspension, grinding out 54 yards on 14 carries against Southern Illinois, and didn't get many carries for the next nine games.
But with Marshall out against Southern Methodist, Ward erupted for 136 yards, with Edwards-Maye adding 113. Ward finished the season in style, with 72 yards on just nine carries, enough to win MVP honors in the 21-17 bowl victory over Ohio. He scored twice and reeled off a season-high 44-yard run.
Since then, the 5-foot-9, 201-pound Ward has caught the eye of first-year Herd coach Doc Holliday - and not just for his ability as the lead running back. He has shown consistency, whether running or pass blocking, or other unsung chores.
"Martin Ward's a good player," Holliday said. "I watch him play, and everything he does ... He's our best guy on the punt team right now."
If you're thinking about running backs on special teams, the 5-10 Booker comes immediately to mind. Still fresh is the memory of his 58-yard punt return in the bowl game, when Ohio's cover personnel badly misjudged his speed and took errant angles in pursuit.
The play made one wonder how Booker had just eight of the Herd's 25 punt returns heading into the bowl game. Then again, eyebrows were raised when his redshirt was pulled in the second game of the season, when Marshall was falling hard at Virginia Tech.
"That was a surprise," Booker said. "I was like, 'Did they make the right decision?' I wanted to play, but I felt I wasn't ready to be out there on the field. I felt like they should have redshirted me, because I had some catching up to do. [But] I got a punt return in the bowl game, so the hard work paid off."
As the season wore on, the Herd featured him more as a slot receiver, and he averaged 5 yards a carry and caught four passes, with a long of 22 yards.
With his speed, he has been shifted back to running back full-time, where he will push Ward for carries. And Ward can almost feel that speed behind him.
"He's too fast," Ward joked. "Normally, you tell someone to speed up, but you tell him to slow down, read the cut a little bit slower. He's a lightning bolt, a home-run hitter."
Seider, who played at West Virginia and was a graduate assistant at WVU, has seen a few fast backs, and would put Booker among them.