"My freshman year left a bad taste in my mouth," said Emmanuel Spann, one of the 15 seniors to be named captains for Mark Snyder's 2008 Herd team. "I thought we would go back every year to a bowl game."
Emmanuel Spann, catching a touchdown last season against ECU, will look for a big senior season in 2008 for Herd. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
But that was not the case. The following spring, Bob Pruett left the MU program and Snyder was not hired until the end of 2005's spring football as the program tried to ready for a move up in talent and travel in Conference USA. Marshall traded trips to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo for long flights to El Paso, Dallas, Tulsa, Houston and shorter flights to Greenville, N.C., Birmingham, Memphis and Hattiesburg, Miss. UCF, a Mid-American Conference 0-3 against Marshall, came along as well.
Maurice Kitchens, sacking the Rice quarterback last year, will lead a deep, active defense for Marshall in the 2008 season. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
What a difference three year's makes. Snyder's teams are 12-23 over three seasons, with only a couple of wins in C-USA away from home: at Birmingham, and MU is 3-0 against the Blazers; and at Mobile, Ala., where Marshall met Tulane in the wake of Katrina. But the Herd is 0-3 against UCF, who has played for two titles and won the East Division twice, and Southern Miss as well. Marshall has struggled in the league, coming off the three-year probation and loss of props and 15 scholarships.
Now the Herd is looking for redemption. "We feel like we can play with anyone in the conference if we put all the parts together," said junior tight end Cody Slate, an All-C-USA and All-American in two seasons at Marshall. Snyder has gone on record saying he believes his team's talent is at least the equal of anyone in C-USA, and fans can look for a lot of players to play in game one with FCS (see: I-AA) Illinois State, a team MU is 3-1 all-time with.
Junior tight end Cody Slate, scoring a 42-yard touchdown against WVU in '07, will lead Marshall once again in the 2008 season. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
The last meeting with the Redbirds was 1984, when the Herd and 'Birds waited out a tornado for 30 minutes in the locker rooms. MU took the win and pulled out a 10-3 win in Normal, moving to 5-5 and getting a winning record with a 31-28 win over East Tennessee State the next week for the first non-losing season in 20 years. Now, a win over ISU this year would be the first step for the "Redeem Team" to shoot for at least six wins and a bowl bid in the post-season. But Marshall's players want to shoot for so much more.
Darius Marshall will look to lead the Herd to a win on Saturday against Illinois State. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
"It's very important we jump out there and get off to a good start," said Snyder of the first game at home, and his team's are 10-7 at home in the past three years. "We've wiped the slate clean." Snyder also emphasized his team must play 12 "one-week" seasons this year, and not lose focus on the lower level Redbirds who have about nine I-A level transfers. The Herd has been very good against the former I-AA teams since going 15-0 and winning the National Championship in MU's final year at that level. Since 1997, MU is 10-1 versus FCS teams, is 9-0 against FCS in home openers and has out-scored FCS teams by 552-241, an average of 50.2-21.9.
While the fans dwell on last year's loss to New Hampshire, 48-35, in a game coming after losing a number of starters to injury in camp, losing at Miami-Fla. and battling West Virginia for three quarters in the first Mountaineer sighting in Huntington since 1915, the Herd will not overlook the team in the opener. "It hasn't been brought up much, but it's in the back of your mind," said John Jacobs, a junior defensive end. "You really can't overlook anyone." Besides Marshall, FCS had a number of upsets over FBS last year, including MU's former Southern Conference rival Appalachian State knocking off Michigan in the "Big House."
"I think people are going to see (Marshall) back to where they expect the Herd to be, and that's battling for titles and winning bowls," said sophomore running back Darius Marshall. "We are looking forward to get the ball rolling Saturday against Illinois State." If the Herd can get off to a fast start, certainly another part of the problem last year, then redemption may be just over the horizon for Marshall football, players, coaches and fans.
Wood-peckings: Look for ISU to run the ball, with junior Geno Blow, Kansas State transfer Parrish Fisher and Illinois transfer Walter Mendenhall. With Kevin Brockway, in the program four years with five passes total and no starts until Saturday, ISU will line up two tight ends, a fullback and run, run and run. That actually might help MU get ready for its next game at Wisconsin, a team that does the same with a much bigger line. Marshall will also focus on the running game with Marshall, senior Chubb Small and freshman Terrell Edwards getting lots of carries, but look for some action on the edge with Spann, sophomore Bryant Milligan and Darius Passmore at receiver plus tight ends Lee Smith and Slate.
Darius Passmore is looking for a big senior season, starting Saturday at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Bottom Line: Herd gets off the fast start for "Redeem Team" with a 39-10 win over the Redbirds.