Herd ends preseason, starts prep for opener
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There is no down time for the Marshall football team today, but that much-welcomed transition will take place.
Goodbye, preseason camp. Hello, game-week preparation. For just about every player, that doesn't come a minute too soon.
Especially for the rookies and the fifth-year seniors. There are 11 of the latter, including Penn State transfers Derrick Thomas and Devon Smith. Saturday was the Thundering Herd's 22nd practice, so if you go off that figure the fifth-year men have slogged through 110 long, mostly hot, always strenuous preseason practices in their careers.
"It's crazy that I've been through five of these," said offensive lineman Jordan Jeffries. "Luckily, they got a little easier as they went along; first one I had was probably the hardest. It's sad that it's coming to an end, but it's also ... you know, it's a relief knowing that two-a-days are not part of my future here at Marshall."
One of Jeffries' responsibilities has been helping the freshmen get through these three weeks with a level head and a near-level effort. It has been several years since the Herd last had this much experience to impart to the younger players, particularly in this regard.
"It gets really old for them," Jeffries said. "It's their first one and they come out, it's the same thing - one a day, then two a day, then one a day, two a day. They just want to go play a game.
"But when you've done it as long as I have, you realize all this work has a purpose."
With several hundred incoming freshman invited to watch - or just socialize in the sun, as the case may be - coach Doc Holliday's team went through a "mock game," running through the gamut of game situations and logistics, routine and strange.
"Today was a situational deal," he said. "Trying to substitute, going against the scout team the entire time, but we had to get all these situations in as far as people coming in and out from the benches. It wasn't quite what we had the rest of camp, but it was something we had to do, and I thought they executed for the most part.
"We've got to clean up a couple of substitution issues, but we'll fix that."
Holliday veered into special teams during his brief post-practice interview, touching on the critical kickoff situation. Last year, as the coverage unit deteriorated it didn't get any help from the kicker - the Herd had a Conference USA-low three touchbacks.
The coach dropped a hint about who might execute those chores when the Herd opens its season next Saturday against Miami (Ohio): "Looks like our kickoff guy can at least get it down to the goal line with some hang time, so that will help us a little bit."
He was referring to Amoreto Curraj, the freshman from Tampa, Fla., who has shown a lively leg all month. But when pressed, Holliday wouldn't pull the trigger on anointing Curraj.
"I don't know yet; we'll see what happens," he said. "Every day, I've tried to put a little pressure on him, people in the stands and that type of thing. Nothing really bothers that kid a whole lot; he's a little different, so that's a good thing."
The Herd will go to church as a team this morning, then gather later in the day for the team's first game-week practice. At the end of practice, team captains will be named.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.