Monday, June 4, 2012

Q&A with a Marshall Blogger

The last couple weeks, we've been fortunate enough to do some question-and-answer sessions with a Charlotte 49er Blogger as well a UT - San Antonio Blogger.  Today we get to post another session with a future Conference USA member - a blogger who follows Marshall University.  As was the case with the other responses, the guys at Marshall Thundering Blog provided some dynamite answers.  In addition to reading their content at their website, you can follow MTB on Twitter at @MarshallTBlog.

Obligatory "We Are Marshall" reference.  As you'll read, there's more to Marshall football than just this.
We hope to reach out to bloggers of other schools and will post whatever we can get.  For now, I've got to get this ODU-to-CUSA-story finished.

Without further ado, below is a Q&A with a Marshall blogger!

VBR: Please provide background on your association with Marshall. Did you and/or family attend? If not is it simply the local school that you support? That kind of information.
MTB: I attended and graduated from Marshall University in the late 2000’s. Prior to that I had no association with the school but, I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a MU student. I am currently an active member of the Big Green, Marshall’s athletic fundraising arm.
VBR: Assume that everyone reading this post has seen "We Are Marshall" or at least knows the story. How did the university get football back to national prominence over the years? How was the school able to recruit talents like Moss, Pennington and Leftwich that helped move the school from D1aa to D1a?
(VBR Productions note - at the time Marshall swithced to FBS, FBS was still called "D1" and FCS was still called "D1aa."  Technically it's correct to use the term "D1" as that was the appropriate name at that time.)
Thundering Herd football is played at John C. Edwards Stadium. (Photo source:
MTB: Marshall had a long and arduous path to football respectability after the plane crash in 1970. No college football team lost more games during the 70’s than the Young Thundering Herd. In fact, Marshall did not record a winning season until 1984, finishing 6-5 under Stan Parrish.
After '84 the school saw unprecedented success with it’s football program, winning two 1-AA national championships 1992 and 1996, while finishing runner up in 1987, 1991, 1993, and 1995. Marshall jumped to 1-A, now FBS, in 1997 and won four straight Mid-American Conference championships (97’-2000). During that time the 1999 team, lead by quarterback Chad Pennington, accomplished an undefeated season, finishing 10th in the Coaches and AP poll.
Marshall continued it’s success into the mid 2000’s under head coach Bob Pruett. While leading the Thundering Herd (1996-2004), Pruett won a 1-AA national championship, completed two undefeated season, claimed six conference championships, and five bowl game victories while accumulating an overall record of 94-23.
It’s funny, all the former Marshall players you mentioned, Randy Moss, Pennington, and Byron Leftwich have unique recruiting stories.
(VBR Productions note: Randy Moss will forever have a special place in our hearts after giving this "straight cash, homie!" impromptu interview.)
Out of high school Moss accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame but was denied admittance. Considered a transfer student because he signed a letter of intent, Moss headed to Florida State where he was required to sit out one season. While sitting out Moss tested positive for marijuana and was dismissed from FSU. Needing a place to play immediately the West Virginia native transferred to Marshall which was entering it’s last year as a 1-AA program. The rest is history, as member of the Thundering Herd Moss recorded over 3,000 receiving yards and 54 touchdowns over two seasons. He was also Marshall’s first Heisman Trophy finalist in 1997.
(VBR Productions note: Moss was an absolute beast.  Maybe you've seen the following clip...)
Pennington was lightly recruited out of high school and only appeared on Marshall’s radar after attending a football camp run by then current head coach Jim Donnan. Entering the 1995 season Pennington was going to be redshirted but, three injuries at the quarterback position rushed him into action. After leading Marshall to the 95’ 1-AA championship game Pennington was redshirted in 1996, making way for University of Florida transfer Eric Kresser. The future 1st round NFL draft pick reclaimed the starting spot from 1997-1999, throwing for 13,423 yards and 115 touchdowns.
Leftwhich was another diamond in the rough. Marshall only noticed the Washington D.C. product while scouting another player during a high school all-star game. Entering the 2000 season Leftwhich had big shoes to fill as Pennington had moved onto the NFL. In the end Marshall fans could not have asked for a better replacement, as a three year starter he amassed 11,903 passing yards and 89 touchdowns. In the 2003 NFL Draft Leftwhich was selected 7th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. 
(VBR Productions note: remember THIS effort by Leftwich?)
VBR: Discuss the evolution of Marshall joining Conference USA. (I believe Marshall was in the MAC for part of its existence but I'm not sure if it was part of other conferences between the MAC and C-USA.)
MTB: Marshall was expelled from the MAC in 1969 due to major NCAA violations so rejoining the conference in 1997 was a big deal. During it’s second stint in the league Marshall won five conference football titles and became a regular on ESPN . After losing four members to the Big East in 2004 Conference USA was looking for new schools to fill the void. With a nationally recognized football program Marshall was an easy choice for C-USA and the Thundering Herd joined up in 2005.
VBR: What are your thoughts on Old Dominion joining the conference? What could ODU's administration learn from Marshall's move from D1aa to D1a years ago?
Gratuitous Old Dominion football picture.
MTB: Love the addition of ODU to Conference USA. As a Virginia native I am very familiar with the school and it’s start-up football program. ODU is an easy travel partner for Marshall and I look forward to attending away football and basketball games.
Comparatively, ODU is in a much stronger position to make the jump from FCS to FBS football than Marshall was in 1997. I don’t mean that in a talent on the field type of way. Keep in mind Marshall made the jump off a 1-AA national championship with Randy Moss and Chad Pennington in tow. What ODU has going for it is money and resources. I might be wrong but, I think ODU’s athletic budget is bigger than Marshall’s. Also, ODU resides in a much bigger media market and recruiting hotbed than Huntington W.V.
What ODU football coaches should be looking for is their own version of Randy Moss. In 2014 the Monarch’s can offer FBS transfers the ability to play right away and the promise of returning to big time college football in one year. That special opportunity needs to be exploited.
(VBR Productions note: seriously...Randy Moss was good.)
VBR: What were highlights of the 2011 football season, and what is your outlook for the 2012 season?
MTB: Marshall returned to a bowl game after a one year hiatus, defeating FIU in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl 20-10. Finishing 7-6 might not seem great but, The Herd had it’s best league record since joining C-USA, finishing 5-3 with big victories over ECU and Southern Miss. Marshall also recorded an away win over Big East member Louisville. The win was MU’s first over a BCS conference school since defeating Kansas State in 2003.
Marshall hosted C-USA’s defensive player of the year in 2011, former defensive end Vinny Curry. A senior Curry was selected in the second round of April’s NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Thundering Herd returns a young squad in 2012 with only six seniors. Despite their youth many of Marshall’s underclassman have played a lot of football.
On offense second year quarterback Rakeem Cato looks to improve on his true freshman season. The Florida product threw for 2,059 yards last year while tossing 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Cato will have the luxury of throwing to West Virginia native Aaron Dobson who snagged 49 balls for 668 yards and 12 TD’s in 2011. Marshall also returns two running backs, Tavon Vann and Tron Martinez (name should be familiar to ODU fans) who both rushed for over 500 yards last year. Along the offensive line the Herd must replace two starters at left and right tackle.
Showing clear improvement during 2011, Rakeem Cato threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 OT win over East Carolina.
On defense the Herd is replacing starters at defensive end, linebacker, and safety.
A group of young defensive ends are fighting to fill the void left by Curry. Marshall does have a deep group of defensive tackles, Brandon Sparrow, Marques Aiken, Steve Dillon and Jarquez Samuel that from a solid rotation. At linebacker the Herd will be elevating two former reserves to starting spots. One player to watch out for in the secondary is safety D.J Hunter. Hunter was originally headed to Tennessee out of high school but, legal issues derailed his career before ending up at Marshall. He received rave reviews during spring practice and should be a force once the season starts.
VBR Productions thanks the guys at Marshall Thundering Blog for their responses.