2012 Marshall Thundering Herd Football Preview
Another challenging schedule awaits Marshall this year. Bring it on, says Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday.
The Herd responded to a similar schedule in 2011 — it was rated 16th strongest in the nation by one web site — by going 6-6 in the regular season and beating FIU in the Beef O’Brady’s/St. Petersburg Bowl.
Marshall beat seven FBS opponents for the first time since 2003. Two of the victories came against eventual conference champions — Southern Miss of C-USA and Louisville, co-champion of the Big East.
2011 Record – 7-6
Head Coach: Doc Holliday (West Virginia ’79)
Record at school: 12-13 (2 years)
Career record: 12-13 (2 years)
Off. Cord(s) – Tony Peterson (Marshall ’88) & Bill Legg (West Virginia ’85)
Def. Cord – Chris Rippon (Southern Connecticut State ’82)
Holliday’s signing class features some impact players including freshman offensive lineman Cameron Dees (6-2, 280) of Armwood (Fla.) High School.
Tailback Kevin Grooms (5-10, 170), who originally signed with Miami, was on campus in the spring and summer and should make an impact. Former Arizona State commitment Steward Butler (RS Freshman) (5-10, 170) rushed for 2,934 yards and 30 touchdowns while averaging an astonishing 12.4 yards per carry as a senior two seasons ago Lakeland (Fla.) High School.
Safety Shawn Samuels (6-1, 180) of Bainbridge (Ga.) High School could work his way into the secondary rotation along with cornerback A.J. Leggett of South Miami (Fla.) High. Samuel originally committed to Arkansas, while Leggett chose the Herd over Tennessee.
Safety Andre Scott (5-11, 175) is another player to watch as a true freshman.
Marshall’s signing class was ranked among the top two in C-USA and includes 12 players from Florida. Almost half of the newcomers were mid-year enrollees.
Sophomore Rakeem Cato (6-1, 180) had a breakout freshman season — starting nine of the 13 games — and looks for an even better season in 2012. Last season, Cato threw for 2,059 yards and 15 touchdowns on 59.9-percent passing. He threw 11 interceptions.
This year, Cato probably won’t spend time worrying about being the starter. A.J. Graham, who started four games and played in five last season, was dismissed from the team in March. Graham, who got into some legal trouble (charges were dropped) before the 2011 season, completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 714 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions last season.
Redshirt freshman Blake Frohnapfel (6-6, 229) earned the backup quarterback’s job in the spring. Frohnapfel came to Marshall out of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Va.
In The Backfield
Two of the Herd’s top three running backs from 2011 return in junior Tron Martinez (5-9, 202) and sophomore Travon Van (5-10, 200). Graham was third on the team in rushing with 237 yards, despite playing only five games.
Martinez started all but one game and ran for 649 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Van ran for 551 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Senior Martin Ward (5-10, 209) is back after playing in 11 games last season.
Other backs that should contribute include redshirt freshman Remi Watson (5-11, 200).
Marshall is loaded at the receiver spots, starting with senior Aaron Dobson (6-3, 204), who has NFL potential. Dobson was on the All-C-USA honorable mention team in 2011 after leading the Herd in catches (49), receiving yards (668) and TD catches (12). He averaged 13.6 yards per catch.
Sophomore Jazz King (5-11, 190) was slotted behind Dobson at one receiver spot at the end of spring. King played in seven games last season and made two catches.
Senior Antavious Wilson (6-1, 197) started 10 of 12 games last season and retained his starting job in the spring. Wilson was third on the team in catches (29) and second in receiving yards (462). He had one TD catch and led the team in yards per catch (15.9).
Junior Demetrius Evans (6-2, 191) was behind Wilson at that receiver spot. Evans played in two games last season and had one catch. Senior Andre Booker (5-10, 176) moved into a starting job in the spring after being a backup last season. Booker played in all 13 games in 2011 with two starts and finished with six catches for 116 yards.
The Big Uglies
The Herd’s O-line will get a couple of new starters with the departures of tackles Ryan Tillman and C.J. Wood — and the unit needs to be bolstered from last year when Marshall ranked 11th in C-USA in total offense (333.4 yards per game).
Junior Gage Niemeyer (6-6, 305) earned the starting job at left tackle in the spring ahead of junior Jordan Jeffries (6-7, 305). Niemeyer joined the Herd as a mid-year enrollee out of Mount San Jacinto (Calif.) Community College. “I’m real excited about him and what he brings to the table,” Holliday said. “Jordan Jeffries is another tackle who played a lot for us a year ago, and played in six games, and the whole bowl game.”
Jasperse (6-4, 296) retained his starting job that he earned as a redshirt freshman last season. Senior Chris Bowers (6-2, 285) is the backup center.
Junior Garrett Scott (6-4, 296) is the starting right tackle and sophomore Josh Lovell (6-6, 290) is the backup. Scott was a starting guard last season and moved to tackle in the spring.
It won’t be easy for the ‘Herd to replace end Vinny Curry and tackle Delvin Johnson, both starters as seniors in 2011.
Curry, chosen to the All-C-USA first team, started all 13 games and tied for fourth on the team in tackles (77) and had team-highs with 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks with eight quarterback hurries.
Leading the front will be junior end Jeremiah Taylor (6-4, 250), who started 11 games last season and made 45 tackles — including 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and the team-high 11 quarterback hurries.
Taylor’s backup at the end of spring was redshirt freshman Steve Dillon (6-2, 268).
Junior Alex Bazzie (6-2, 235) moves into the starting job at the other end. Bazzie played in all 13 games last year and made 21 tackles. His backup is freshman Joe Massaquoi (6-5, 230).
Junior James Rouse (6-5, 250) is the starting nose tackle ahead of junior Ken Smith (6-4, 285).
Returning at tackle is junior Marques Aiken (6-4, 270), who started 12 games and had 39 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and one sack.
Junior Brandon Sparrow (6-4, 280) is Aiken’s backup. Sparrow played in 13 games last season (one start) and chipped in with 22 tackles.
Strong-side linebacker George Carpenter is the only lost starter from the unit that should be improved in 2012. Carpenter started all 13 games last season and was third on the team in tackles with 92 and had 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and nine quarterback hurries.
Junior T.J. Ross (6-0, 220) will be a new starter at linebacker, but he saw action in 10 games last season and had seven tackles. His backup at the end of spring was sophomore Deon Meadows (5-11, 225), who played in 11 games and made two tackles.
Sophomore middle linebacker Jermaine Holmes (5-11, 238) is back after starting eight games last season and finishing with 25 tackles. Junior Billy Mitchell (6-3, 226) is a solid backup at middle linebacker; Mitchell played in all 13 games last season (one start) and made 22 tackles.
Senior Devin Arrington (6-2, 209) is the other starter at linebacker, and Mitchell will serve a dual role as Arrington’s backup. Arrington started all 13 games last season at strong safety and tied for fourth on the team in tackles (77) with 41 solo tackles. His move to linebacker is one that gives the unit more speed.
Despite the departures of starting cornerback Rashad Jackson and free safety Omar Brown, Holliday has plenty of confidence in his secondary.
Brown led the team in tackles last season with 113, starting all 13 games. The first-team All-C-USA pick had four interceptions and four forced fumbles.
Jackson started 10 games and made 41 tackles.
At the other corner, junior Monterius Lovett (5-11, 175) returns after starting seven games in 2011 and playing in all 13 games. He finished with 53 tackles, seventh-best on the team.
Sophomore Evan McKelvey (6-1, 205) earned the starting job at free safety in the spring in front of junior Derek Mitchell (6-2, 200). McKelvey played in six games last season; Mitchell played in all 13 games and made 22 tackles. Redshirt freshman D.J. Hunter (6-0, 200) was slotted as the starter at strong safety in the spring ahead of Mitchell, who will see plenty of action in the secondary rotation.
The Return Game
Andre Booker is the top punt and kickoff returner. Booker averaged 10.8 yards on 18 punt returns last year and had an 87-yarder for touchdown.
Booker led the team in kickoff returns (33) and return average (24.8).
Kicking and Punting
Haig was 1 of 2 on field-goal attempts last season and made his only PAT.
There was evidence the Herd was rolling in the right direction in 2011 — and Marshall fans will certainly be hoping the momentum picks up this year.
Cato returns as the starting quarterback, and he’s a good player to build the offense around. Dobson is a big-time playmaker, and the running backs are solid, but much is riding on the development of the offensive line. The defense lost two of its top players from 2011 — Curry and Brown — and needs some newcomers to move into more prominent roles.
“We’re more athletic on defense,” Holliday said. “I know we’re a faster defense, and I think when it’s all said and done we could be pretty good there.”
Look for junior college transfers and even some freshmen to compete for starting jobs.
2012 Record Prediction - 8-4