Both 2011 feature backs gone
By the end of the 2011 season, Marshall's backfield had solidified with the one-two punch of Tron Martinez and Travon Van. Today, with the Thundering Herd-less bowl season about to begin, both are gone from the program.
Martinez has been medically disqualified from playing football, MU athletic director Mike Hamrick said Monday. The school will continue to honor his scholarship, should the Hampton, Va., native wish to stay in Huntington.
Over the weekend Van announced his plans to transfer to Montana to continue his college career as a running back. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound sophomore will be eligible immediately for the Grizzlies, a perennial Football Championship Subdivision contender.
Martinez had an unspecified knee injury, which required at least one surgery. He missed spring practice and did little more than walk around in the fall - a bad sign, considering how injured players are kept busy doing some sort of conditioning drills during practice.
Van had similar offseason injury issues but was ready for the start of preseason drills. He wasn't necessarily ready for the season that followed, including his detour to Big Sky Conference.
"My goal in life was to play offense in college," Van told the Missoulian newspaper of Missoula, Mont. "[Marshall] had a change of heart and I decided to transfer."
That 'change of heart' was the MU coaching staff's ever-so-brief shift of Van from running back to cornerback. The Thundering Herd was suddenly thin at corner, and gave a Van a series at the position in the 54-51 double-overtime win Sept. 22 at Rice. By all accounts - Van's included - that series was adventurous.
"It was more of a, 'Let me sneak in a play and see if they see me over here before they try to attack me,'" he said on Sept. 25. "I guess they called an audible, and here comes a bubble [screen] my way. I think I played about seven plays, and most of the balls were coming my way, too."
Van showed enthusiasm to learn the new position that day, but he may have come to the decision to transfer by then. He told the Missoulian he asked for his release after the Rice game.
When the Herd gathered Sept. 29 at Purdue, Van was not on the trip. A month later he tweeted, "To be honest I got my release 2 weeks ago. My mom is real sick so Marshall is helping me get closer to her."
At his press conference Oct. 30, coach Doc Holliday denied he had given Van his release, mentioning his mother's illness. Two weeks earlier, Holliday said Van has "got an issue, injury-wise, where he cannot practice. He has not been cleared by our doctors for physical contact."
Van missed spring drills with an injury - he told the Missoulian it was a torn labrum in his hip - and it is uncertain if that injury lingered, if another injury popped up during or after the Rice game, or if there was no significant injury at all. Van told the Missoulian, "I'm doing fine" physically.
Van played scholastically at Helix High, also alma mater of NFL players Reggie Bush and Alex Smith. After spending the fall of 2009 at Milford (N.Y.) Academy, he was rated a four-star recruit when signed with Florida. His position designation was "athlete."
He did not qualify as a freshman and sat out the 2009-10 season at Marshall. Upon joining the program, he dazzled in practice - in one scrimmage situation, he pulled a spin move so amazing it left star linebacker Mario Harvey grabbing air.
It took him time to find his way, but he turned in some highlight-reel plays. He had a 69-yard touchdown run against Tulsa, but his most important play was a 24-yard catch and run that set up the Herd's go-ahead touchdown in a bowl-clinching win against East Carolina.
He didn't have a good start in September, being held to 15 yards on 13 carries against Ohio. After that game, Herd coaches turned the running load over the all-freshman trio of Remi Watson, Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler, who combined for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing. Grooms was named Conference USA's Freshman of the Year.
Van was last seen in his green No. 7 jersey on the sidelines in the Herd's Nov. 3 game against Memphis. He continued to back his teammates and has kept his Twitter comments positive.
"[Holliday] is a really good coach and we saw eye-to-eye, and he said he'd help me get to a school where they'd let me play offense," Van told the Missoulian.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.