Another future RB for the Herd?

August 16, 2015 by Derek Redd

There currently are seven running backs on Marshall’s roster, but the Herd isn’t standing pat for the future. A source told’s Ryan Bartow that James Allen, a running back from North Marion High in Citra, Fla., will attend Marshall.

According to Bartow, Allen will come to Marshall as an academic non-qualifier, sit a year, then be eligible to play. He signed with Louisville in February, but did not qualify. Non-qualifiers often make their way to Huntington and can turn into players like Corey Tindal, Steve Dillon and Vinny Curry.

Back to the roster: Sure, there are plenty of running backs on there now, but several are walk-ons and two of the best, seniors Devon Johnson and Remi Watson, will be gone next season. Players like Tony Pittman and Keion Davis return, but right now, they remain mostly untested in regular season competition. Plus, Marshall’s is an offense that will make use of three, maybe four, ball-carriers significantly during a given season. Why not bring in a guy rated four stars by 247Sports and three stars by Rivals and Scout who averaged 9.7 yards per carry as a senior?

The Herd will have to wait a year to see him on the field, but expects him to be worth the wait.

One Herd Hall of Famer remembers another: William King remembers Phil Ratliff

August 11, 2015 by Derek Redd

William King had a unique relationship with the late Phil Ratliff. King set the single-season records for solo tackles and tackles for loss on Marshall’s 1993 team. He was a member of the 1992 national championship team on which Ratliff earned his second All-America nod as an offensive lineman. Ratiff went into the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008 and King followed in 2012. King’s son, former South Charleston star A.D. Cunningham, is on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte football team, where Ratliff — who died Sunday at age 44 — was offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. It was Ratliff who personally recruited Cunningham to the 49ers.

Below are King’s memories of his old friend in his own words:

I met Phil in 1990 when I got to Marshall. I was in Coach Donnan’s first recruiting class and Phil was there with Coach Chaump and those guys. You noticed him right off the bat. He never met a stranger. He meets you, he likes you and you’re friends for life. It was the most amazing thing.

I would see him at the annual coaches convention. He was coaching at Marshall and JMU and I was at different places coaching. You know how it is, you really don’t have time to sit and chat on the phone all the time. But once a year, twice a year, you’d run into each other and I’d see him or he’d see me and he’s just this big ol’ guy. He’d come up to me and give me a big hug, a big bear hug and a big wet kiss on the cheek. And you’ve got a hundred coaches standing around and watching this and going, “What the …?” But that was Phil. That was a Marshall thing and a lot of people didn’t understand it. But that was the bond and the connection that we had, and Phil, he was just that kind of guy. No matter where you were, who you were with, he was going to pick you up, give you a kiss. He was going to kiss your wife, kiss your kids. It was just an awesome thing.

Phil was a guy that, if you were ever in a dark alley, that was the guy you wanted with you. It didn’t matter. If you’re on his team, if he was going to win, you were going to win right with him. Nothing less. That’s how it was. He was intense, just non-stop. Never quit. He was going to fight to the finish. He’s going to make sure you know you’re on his team. Relentless. The best guy. It’s just unbelievable we’re having this conversation about this. It’s just unreal.

He recruited A.D. He called me, said he liked him and wanted to recruit him. The process went on and they built a relationship. And he said, “Let me ask you this. You know, when I offer him, everyone else is going to run and come offer him?” I was like, “Well, that’s part of it, Phil.” Then he said, “Let me ask you this. If Marshall offers him, what’s going to happen?” I said, “You don’t have nothin’ to worry about, Phil.” He said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Hey, A.D., what happens it Marshall offers you?” And he said, “Dad, Coach Ratliff, he recruited me, he saw something in me. He was the first one to offer me. That’s who I’m going to play for.” He said, “The only way I’m not going to Charlotte is if Nick Saban was to fly down here himself and offer me.”

They were so much alike when it comes to being loyal, when it comes to standing by their word. He and Phil, that was their bond. I was down there, I went and watched practice (Saturday) morning and went over to the hospital. A.D. texted me … he said, “Man, he used to call me every Thursday before my games last season. All I had to hear was, ‘Hey, bud,’ and I knew it was Coach Ratliff. It’s just not fair. When I was having issues with my legs, he drove four hours to see me and see if I was OK.”

The only word I’ve got is “unbelievable.” His family is great people, and if you met his mom, you’d know where he got it. She’s hilarious, just like Phil. You hate that this happens to anybody, but why this guy? It’s just unreal. Unreal.

The Five Spot — No. 1: Western Kentucky

August 8, 2015 by Derek Redd

We started The Five Spot with the beginning of the 2015 regular season. Why not finish it with the finale?

What you won’t see in the more than half-hour of highlights in that video above is the one big lowlight for Marshall in that game — the Brandon Doughty-to-Willie McNeal 2-point conversion in overtime that sealed Marshall’s only loss of 2014. There was plenty riding on that game. Win that and the Conference USA title, and Marshall remained in contention for a major-bowl bid. Instead, the Herd shellacked Mid-American Conference champ Northern Illinois in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.

I was asked earlier this summer whether Western Kentucky would grow into a natural rival for Marshall.

“It is already,” I replied.

WKU ruined everything Marshall was building toward last season. And now the Conference USA media is picking the Hilltoppers over the Herd for the East Division title.

This year’s game likely won’t just decide the East. I could decide the C-USA champion. I just don’t see a team in the West that can match either Marshall or WKU’s firepower. Marshall hasn’t won consecutive conference titles since winning back-to-back MAC championships in 1999 and 2000. And if both teams enter the game undefeated — there’s a much better chance Marshall does it than WKU, which has Louisiana Tech, Rice and LSU on its schedule — it could be a game that helps push the winner into the access-bowl-bid conversation. Most pundits have that bid going to Boise State. An undefeated C-USA champ might be able to create an argument if the Broncos drop a conference game.

This season, high hopes could be dashed on either side of L.T. Smith Stadium on the day after Thanksgiving.

UPDATED: Davon Durant joins the football roster

August 7, 2015 by Derek Redd

4:31 p.m. update

Marshall just sent out a news release about Durant’s arrival with the following quote from Doc Holliday:

“We are fully aware of Davon’s situation at Arizona State and take very seriously all of the issues he once faced,” Holliday said. “We have done our due diligence in reviewing all available information, as we do with any student-athlete who enters our program. We are comfortable with the information we have gathered and all of the individuals with whom we have spoken are confident that Davon will embrace this opportunity to represent Marshall Athletics and this university with class.”

Original post

Among the new faces out for the Marshall football team’s second practice of the day was linebacker Davon Durant, a former four-star prospect out of Butler Community College in Kansas and former Arizona State signee.

He’s a former ASU signee because he and the school parted ways in July due to circumstances surrounding his March arrest on aggravated assault charges. He was accused of hitting his girlfriend and grabbing her around the neck during an argument. His girlfriend recanted the story soon after, saying her initial statements to police were “completely made up.” Police during the arrest noted injuries consistent with her original claims. Durant pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in May and was sentenced to two years of supervised probation. Arizona State football coach Todd Graham told Sports Illustrated in July that Durant was “done” with the Sun Devils. Durant had enrolled early to participate in spring drills, but was suspended due to the arrest.

Recruiting website considered the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Durant the No. 1 junior college inside linebacker prospect of 2015 in its composite ratings. He took visits to Ole Miss and Oregon before choosing Arizona State. Reports had him looking at Minnesota following his ASU exit, but he ultimately ended up in Huntington. He’ll sit a season as a transfer and will have two left to play.

As soon as we hear something from Marshall on Durant’s arrival — which I think we will — this post will be updated.

The Five Spot — No. 2: Devon Johnson’s shoulders

August 7, 2015 by Derek Redd

And it’s not the fact that Johnson’s shoulders might have to bear the weight of the Marshall offense. It’s that they had to bear the wear and tear of 206 carries during the 2014 season, many of them going through the heart of the opposing defense.

When you’re working with 245 pounds like Johnson is, that’s usually where those carries will go. The drawback to that is the constant contact, bouncing off defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs at different points. During last season’s campaign, that contact led to a torn labrum and sprained deltoid. The labrum wasn’t a problem. He played his freshman year with a torn labrum. The sprained deltoid was the most painful malady, and forced him to miss time, time that could have given him a 2,000-yard season if he was healthy.

Johnson’s fine now. The injuries were fixed in the offseason and he took it easy during the spring. But he’ll want to try some techniques this year that would reduce the potential for injuries. With a new quarterback under center in Michael Birdsong, Johnson will be looked toward even more in 2015, both as a blocker and a runner.

Those techniques already are a part of Johnson’s workouts. It helps to have as your running backs coach a guy like Chris Barclay, the former ACC offensive player of the year at Wake Forest who spent a couple of seasons in the NFL. In Barclay’s last three seasons with the Demon Deacons, he never had a season with fewer than 218 carries and carried the ball 243 times as a junior in 2004.

It wouldn’t surprise if Johnson carried the ball that much this year. With Stew Butler gone, Remi Watson is next on the running back depth chart. He carried the ball 100 times in 2015. After that is Tony Pittman with seven carries. Pittman’s workload should definitely increase, but will Birdsong match Rakeem Cato’s 94 carries from last year? The target might not be on Johnson’s chest this season. Opponents might place it a little higher on his body.

The Five Spot: No. 3 — 3.8

August 7, 2015 by Derek Redd

See that number in the heading? That’s the yards per carry Marshall’s defense allowed last season, which ranked 33rd in the FBS.

See that guy in the video? He’s a big reason why that number was so low.

Last year, I asked James Rouse what was the most a team dedicated to stopping him. He said that, on his first snap against Ohio, he was triple-teamed. When an opposing team must put that much effort into stopping one guy, everyone else on the defensive line should have a lot of room to wreak havoc.

But he’s not there anymore.

That’s not saying there isn’t talent on the roster. DT Jarquez Samuel was a preseason all-C-USA pick and DE Gary Thompson was a former C-USA all-freshman pick. But losing a guy that can command triple teams is significant.

And that yards-per-carry average is important, too. A strong D-line allows linebackers to run free and the secondary to take calculated risks that, more often than not, work out. That strength now must come in numbers, and that includes Marshall’s reserves.

The Five Spot: No. 4 — Michael Birdsong

August 5, 2015 by Derek Redd

The passing highlights in that James Madison University video? They come courtesy of Marshall’s new starting quarterback, Michael Birdsong. He started 14 games over two seasons for the Dukes, and threw for 2,728 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore.

When Birdsong showed up, it kind of gave us an idea of what Marshall coaches thought of their QB corps. After all, why sign a former starter if he won’t be the frontrunner to start? And he earned the job during the 2015 spring season. He’s a big guy — 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds — who can make all the throws and really launch it down field. If there was anything Marshall’s passing game could improve on, the long ball would be it.

The toughest part of Birdsong’s ascension to the starting job is that he’s the guy replacing The Guy. Rakeem Cato finished his Herd career as the all-team leader in nearly every major passing category and the holder of three bowl wins in three tries, plus a C-USA championship ring. Many of the components to last season’s offense return this season, and the Herd faithful would like to see a second straight title.

Birdsong’s most important task won’t be any specific throw, but his ability to understand and run the Marshall offense as close to Cato’s level of efficiency as he can. That was Cato’s greatest trait, that Marshall’s offense was almost instinct to him.

Birdsong will get a lot of help. Opposing defenses likely will stack the box to stop human wrecking ball Devon Johnson. If those teams load up for the run, receivers like Davonte Allen and Deon-Tay McManus should see a lot of favorable single coverage. It shouldn’t take long to see if he’s up to the task.

The Five Spot: No. 5 — Purdue

August 4, 2015 by Derek Redd

With Marshall football practice kicking off Friday, it’s time to discuss some of the aspects of the 2015 season that could prove to become the most crucial to the Thundering Herd’s success. Let’s call it the Five Spot — five names, games, facts or figures to keep an eye on heading into the schedule.

So why not begin at the beginning?

I tried searching “Purdue football 2014 highlights” on YouTube, and couldn’t find any season highlight packages. Might that have a little to do with a 3-9 overall record, a 1-7 Big Ten record, an offense that ranked 98th in points scored and a defense that ranked 99th in points allowed? Perhaps. Head coach Darrell Hazell could use a better finish in 2015, considering his name has made at least one hot-seat list.

Marshall last faced the Boilermakers in Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. in 2012. Some will remember this being the game that two Rakeem Cato pick-sixes on consecutive drives proved to be the difference in a 51-41 loss. Others will remember this game as the one where Doc Holliday stood too close to the sideline and had a side judge bowl into him, cutting his face on a piece of the official’s equipment and making him look like Dusty Rhodes after a 60-minute draw with Abdullah the Butcher at the Omni.

RIP, American Dream. Give Roddy Piper a hug when he comes through the pearly gates.

RIP, American Dream. Give Roddy Piper a hug when he comes through the pearly gates.

This game is crucial for both teams. Purdue probably needs to win this game to keep the vultures from circling Hazell and scanning for buyout clauses in his contract. The Herd’s return to the conversation of Group of Five contenders for an access bowl likely hinges on this game.

As the Herd pulverized nearly everyone in front of it last season, it watched East Carolina and Boise State jump ahead of it in the CFP committee’s top 25. The constant criticism? A weak schedule. Marshall was supposed to host Louisville, but that game got pushed to 2016 and Rhode Island was scheduled in its place.

This Purdue game helps eliminate that argument, but the Boilermakers were picked last in their division in the recent Big Ten preseason poll, and received the fewest points of any team in the process. Sure, Marshall’s playing a Big Ten team, but this is one the Herd has to beat. Fall in the opener, and the Herd probably won’t break out of the Conference USA bowl menu.

Let’s take a closer look at the pre-camp depth chart

July 31, 2015 by Derek Redd

Marshall on Friday released its depth chart for the start of preseason practice, which begins Friday, Aug. 7. The entire list can be found here, but let’s talk about some of its more interesting aspects.

— The “or” between Gunnar Holcombe and Chase Litton’s names at backup quarterback is a little surprising. There’s no doubt the true freshman Litton looked good during his opportunities in the spring, but I figured Holcombe, a redshirt junior, would be able to hold him off to sit alone at No. 2 signal-caller.

— The Herd likes ’em young at right guard. Two redshirt freshmen, starter Nate Devers and backup Jordan Dowrey, are there. But they’ll have plenty of help on that side of the line from tackle Clint Van Horn, who might be the best offensive lineman in Conference USA. Cody Collins entered the spring as the starting right guard, but he’s now backup center to Michael Selby.

— Redshirt freshman Chase Hancock went from spring surprise to backup strong-side linebacker behind D.J. Hunter. Hunter leads all Marshall players with 28 starts, so Hancock likely will spend the year as an understudy, but there’s no doubt he impressed the coaches.

— Marshall had better hope Evan McKelvey stays injury free this year. Behind him sits juco Devontre’a Tyler, a member of the 2015 recruiting class, and former academic non-qualifier Frankie Hernandez. That’s not knocking their talent, but lack of experience must be mentioned.

— Anyone still wondering about Tiquan Lang, who missed the spring to tend to personal issues, can see that he’s currently the backup at field safety to A.J. Leggett.

— And the placekicker race continues into the fall, with an “or” between Nick Smith and Amoreto Curraj.

Anything else stand out to you folks in the blogosphere?

Obscenely Early Bowl Projection Roundup

July 28, 2015 by Derek Redd

Hey, Redd, I know they do these things early now … but this early?


Ahem. Sorry. Now let’s get on with the show. The system will work like last year. We’ll show where each prognosticator slots Marshall and where he slots the Group of Five pick.

Phil Steele — Miami Beach Bowl vs. Navy; Go5 Pick — Boise State vs. Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl

Athlon — St. Petersburg Bowl vs. Houston; Go5 Pick — Boise State vs. Oregon in Fiesta Bowl

Associated Press — Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. WVU (chuckle, snicker); Go5 Pick — Boise State vs. Oregon in Fiesta Bowl

Sporting News — Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Rutgers; Go5 Pick — Boise State vs. Florida State in Peach Bowl

Mark Schlabach ( — Bahamas Bowl vs. Toledo; Go5 Pick –Boise State vs. Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl

Brett McMurphy ( — St. Petersburg Bowl vs. Cincinnati; Go5 Pick — Utah State vs. Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl

Let’s just get this out of the way early: There’s no way on this planet that the AP’s Heart of Dallas prediction comes true. But, man, the reaction from both sides would be hilarious. Dallas vs. Rutgers? That’s the type of matchup that made Boca so appealing for Marshall last season. Also, I think Mark Schlabach will just pick Marshall for the Bahamas Bowl until it actually plays in one. Otherwise, the pundits see another Florida trip for the Herd this bowl season, which you’ll never hear me complain about.

On the Go5 pick side, it’s nearly unanimous that the experts feel Boise is the team, but check out Brett McMurphy going off the grid with Utah State in the Fiesta Bowl.

We’ll come back later into the season with some more bowl projection roundups, but this should whet your appetite until then. So whaddya think, Marshall fans? Any of these choices sound good to you?