Herd selects game captains, leans on seniors
HUNTINGTON - When coach Doc Holliday declared Sunday that his team captains would be named game by game, that threw a hiccup into a longstanding Marshall tradition.
The last time a Thundering Herd team went that route was 1989, the last year of the George Chaump era. In 2008, coach Mark Snyder named his entire senior class as captains, sending them all to the hashmark for the coin toss. By rule, four can actually witness the toss.
The Herd's first captains are defensive end Jeremiah Taylor, cornerback Monterius Lovett, offensive tackle Garrett Scott and running back Essray Taliaferro. The common denominator?
All are seniors. And with 19 seniors, Herd coaches may need the entire 12-game schedule to properly spread that honor around. Last year, Holliday had only eight seniors.
"It's real different [now]," said defensive end Alex Bazzie. "I remember like yesterday, it was the senior night game against Houston. I remember that - it was just, like, five guys and I was, like, 'This is it?' Me being a junior at the time and knowing those guys were seniors, I said, 'Man, I'm going to miss those guys.'
"There were just so little of [the group]. It didn't hit us because that was a small group; it wasn't a chunk of the program."
This senior class, made up of the first Holliday recruits, the last Mark Snyder class, junior-college imports and three Penn State transfers, are more than a chunk. It's just as numerous as the 2010 senior class of 19, but it's deeper in talent and playing time.
When the two-deep chart is released this afternoon, look for 10 to 12 seniors listed as starters or co-starters, with most of the rest close by on the second unit. By several accounts, this group's leadership ability will be a greater factor.
"Last year, we didn't have too many seniors," said D.J. Hunter, the sophomore strong safety. "Now this year, we've got a whole bunch of leaders and seniors who are stepping up for our team, taking control of this team. So I feel good about that this year.
"We've got J.T. [Taylor], Pacman [Lovett], Bazzie. We've got a lot of good leaders who are stepping up for us this year."
The weekly captains will be selected by the coaching staff, with those captains electing four of their peers for a "season" honor at year's end. The choices this week provide some insight into the coaches' evaluation.
Taylor and Scott were almost gimmes. Taylor is the 25-year-old local product (South Point, Ohio) who walked on as a 300-pounder who enrolled in college several years after his high school days, redefined his body and is now a third-year starter. Scott played as a true freshman, started as a left guard in 2011 and now is anchoring the right side of the O-line.
A year ago, few could have guessed Lovett and Taliaferro being so honored. Lovett has taken on all comers to stay in the cornerback rotation, and should be a first-teamer on today's depth chart.
Lovett admits to being surprised at being named captain for the opening week.
"Yes. It's a blessing," he said. "You know, when they called my name it was like, 'Wow. I'm really going to be captain for the first game of the season. I'm just blessed and honored to be the captain for this team, and I'm going to go out there and represent my team well and give everything that I have."
Taliaferro was named the starter on last year's initial depth chart, but he didn't outrank Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson. But when the Herd took on East Carolina in the final game of the season, Taliaferro accepted the challenge of being the team's only healthy back and gained 180 yards rushing and receiving.
He refuses to let his second-overtime fumble, which ultimately led to the Pirates' 65-59 victory, get him down. It has spurred him to have a good spring, a great summer of conditioning and a solid preseason camp. He likely will be listed as the top back, and it will mean a lot.
"This is my last go-around," he said. "So I try to put myself in the best situation to succeed, whether it be food, watching film, working out harder, no cutting reps - and also being a leader to the young guys."
That last item is a goal of just about every senior on this team. There seems to be a deeper urgency among the upperclassmen to exceed greater expectations, but to leave a great foundation.
"We're kind of looking at each other like, 'Man, if we don't do something this year as seniors, as leaders, we're going to leave not setting a good tone for these guys, a lot of young guys,' " Bazzie said. "In our mind, we're basically saying to ourselves, 'If we don't teach them to win, we feel like with this class having so many seniors and leadership on it, who else will?' "
Inside receiver Tommy Shuler said he has been fully cleared to play. Recovering from a fractured fifth metatarsal bone in a foot, he was eased into camp this month, running routes and performing other non-contact work last week.
Shuler had 110 catches last season, a school record.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.