"Texas Roadhouse" was introduced as the new catering group for the press box, serving up prime rib and sweet potatoes, at the 2003 Media Day. Pruett talked about his team and expects it to surpass the 11-2 squad from 2002 in team speed, depth and ability; but, and there is always a but, they must find leaders, stay healthy and come together in the next 25 days before the Hofstra game on August 30.
In the morning practice, which started at 9:00 a.m., Roberto Terrell, Nate Mann and Ivan Clark continued to work in individual drills and then riding the stationary bikes during the team periods, nursing nagging injuries like hamstring tenderness (Terrell). The first serious injury came midway through the morning session, when offensive lineman Dwayne Robinson went down and had to be carried to the training room with an apparent leg injury. Good news on backup quarterback Adam Black, who will see a local ear specialist immediately and may only be out three or four weeks more.
The defense took control in seven-on-seven and team, slowing the offense better than on Friday afternoon's session. Interceptions were snagged by safety Lonnie McCown and linebacker Kevin Atkins. Quarterback Stan Hill continues to look more at ease running the offense, as does Nate McPeek at left tackle.
Quotes from Media Day:
Defensive Coordinator Bill Wilt: "This may be the biggest, fastest defense I've coached to date at Marshall. We feel good about the outside guys, like Janathan Goddard, Jamus Martin, Maurice McKinney and Marcus Hairston (defensive ends), but need someone to step up inside (at tackle). Toriano Brown is back and passed his running test, but we are going to have to watch his toe (which kept him out of practice much of 2002). Paul Sinclair can help in or out on the line. (Junior College tackle) Jamaal Whyce has a chance to help us, if he can figure out our pace and tempo.";
Mark Gale, inside linebackers coach: "Dionte' Wilson, J.T. Rembert and Kevin Atkins are great leaders. Rembert set a linebacker record in the bench press this summer, Atkins in the verticle leap and freshman Matt Couch set the linebacker squat record as well. Retention of group from spring in very good and their conditioning is great.";
Lou Anarumo, defensive backs and special teams coach: "Roberto Terrell is a two-year starter and leader, and will be back soon from hamstring tightness. Will Smith will be our other corner, and has starting experience as nickel back in 2002. Moriah Anderson started in 2001, when Chris Crocker, who is doing very well with the Cleveland Browns, moved to corner for Bowling Green. So we have starting experience at each position. Lonnie McCown is still learning our system but is solid at safety. Dorian Williams, Jimmy Tyson and Jamall Saunders will help at corner. On special teams, we need three players to replace Curtis Head (of the CFL's BC Lions). Klint Rose, Ben Lewis, Nick Kelly and (true freshman) Ian O'Conner will all compete. Roberto Terrell is back at kickoff returns and Tremel Guillory and Josh Davis have worked out at punt returns, along with freshmen Hiram Moore and Geremy Rodamer. The return game is a point of emphasis this year.";
George Darlington, new coach of whips and rovers, the outside linebackers (rovers have more pass coverage responsibilities):"We have seven players in the mix, two of which are seniors. At rover, Gladstone Coke is the starter and just became a new father of a little girl on Friday. At whip, Charles Tynes is a returning starter and a vocal leader on our defense. Chris Royal is very adaptable, playing either position, while Donte' Newsome, Dennis Thorton, Fernado Durden and Adam Lee will compete for playing time."
Pruett on defense in 2003: "I am enthusiastic. It may be the best defensive team since 1999. Our speed is very good, maybe better than for some time. We have more depth with a front eight and not much difference between our ones and our twos. Most have playing experience. On special teams, Lewis has been very accurate and his range is better than spring. Rose is a very good punter, and Guillory, Moore and Rodamer look like they can become very good return men."
On the Thundering Herd offensive side of the ball:
Offensive Coordinator/line coach Mark McHale: "We lost some really good offensive players from 2002, and not just Byron Leftwich. Steve Sciullo is starting at left guard for the Indianapolis Colts and Jeff Edwards was our three-year starter at center. We have moved three-year starter Nate McPeek to left tackle, to protect Stan Hill's blind side. Luke Salmon is a two-year starter at left guard, the only player who returns at his 2002 starting spot. Joey Stepp played in Edward's place in 2001 and started at guard and tackle in 2002-he can play anywhere, and you have got to get a good player at center. He could be a Jason Starkey-type of player. The right side is new, starting with right guards Nathan Leslie, who came over from defense late in spring, and Toby Bullock, who is battling Leslie. And at right tackle Nate Griffin has grabbed the starting nod. Our players have the confidence in Stan Hill to lead this team to wins, but we have to get the OL straight first and then we can maybe challenge being a better offense than 2002's nationally leading offense here at MU.";
Quarterbacks coach Larry Kueck: "Stan Hill is the best we got and I feel good about him. Graham Gochneaur, sitting out last year really helped him and he has started to get it the last two practices. Jimmy Skinner is surprising; not flashy or athletic, but very savy. Tim Besselo has a bright future and Bernard Morris is a pleasant surprise, a talented young kid. Hopefully, we will get Black back soon."
Dewayne Nunez, wide receivers coach: "We are talented but young. Senior Darius Watts and junior Josh Davis have worked hard since last season and we need them to be team leaders. Sophomore Wilbur Hargrove has made a play every day so far, Jason Schroeder is coming off a good spring and junior Brad Bates is running with no limp. Junior College transfer Tremel Guillory catches the ball well, moves well and is real steady. C.J. Stanfield, a walkon from California, will play. He catches the ball well. This group, plus the true freshmen like Hiram Moore and Geremy Rodamer, give us the most speed at receiver since I've been here.";
Ernie Purnsley, running backs coach: "We've got five guys. Butchie Wallace is in the best shape yet and is a three-year starter. Earl Charles had a great spring and can be really good but is still learning. Tank Tunstalle in a redshirt freshman and gives us a 235-pound power back for short yardage situations. He still is working on his protections so he can be in there in one-back situations with Stan. Michael West (a blue collar, "grunt-type" back) and James Johnson have some work to do but have lots of talent.";
Shane Miles, former graduate assistant in his first year, full-time staff member at Marshall, coaching tight ends and H-backs: "Rader has been great all summer and the first four practices. He is in his best shape yet. We want him to dominate the field as a tight end, both blocking and catching. We need someone to step up at number two to replace Eddie Smolder, either Joe Diefel or Jeff Mullins. Matt Morris, a redshirt freshman from Beckley, is a good athlete but a little light in the butt. He can become a good player, helping us on special teams this year and may be our second best blocker.
Pruett on his offense: "You know I have never been overly optimistic, but at running back we have Butchie, the best we have had for three seasons and many of you think Earl may beat him out and Tank gives us a real power back. I'm excited about our running backs. At receiver, we have Watts and Davis, the top two wide receivers in the nation, according to NFL scouts. We have Hargrove and Schroeder, both faster than Watts and Davis and Schroeder is bigger than all three. We have Bates back, two junior college receivers and two great freshmen. I'm excited about the speed and talent at receiver.
"At tight end, Rader is top ten in the nation. We won a lot of MAC titles with some tight ends who couldn't catch a cold. Rader can catch and block. At quarterback, we have Hill who had a better first start than either Byron or Chad. On the OL, Nate may be better than Sciullo. Stepp, Coach McHale told me all last year he was a better player than Jeff. Toby Bullock is the best offensive line prospect we have ever had come in and Nate Griffin is the best athlete on the offensive line. Salmons is a returner. I expect we might add to that 550 yards per game we averaged in 2002, but we have to go do it.
"Hill has a lot to prove, and he has gone a long way to do that. I also think the defense will take the load off of the offense, instead of the other way around the last two or three years. Our depth gives us a chance to have a big year and, with only 14 seniors, we will have most of these guys back two or three years.
Pruett finished by talking about season ticket sales, at 11,500 with a goal of 13,400, "I'm not satisfied with 11,500 in season ticket sales. People ask me when a top 25 team will come to Huntington to play, well, they have five home games here this year. Our fans do a great job, the rest of the MAC envies our crowds but other teams in the top 25 sellout their stadiums every week."
Marshall will put on full pads Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. for the first full-contact practice of 2003. The team will work out at 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Monday, with one practice on Tuesday.
The 2003 MU Football Media Guide is in. You can purchase one for only $25.00 from Sports Information. It has a Marshall-record 356 pages, 14 more than the largest ever in 2002. Player bio, opponent information, coaching bios, history timelines, records and feature stories on all-time Marshall offensive linemen, additional MU legends Carl Lee and Herb Royer, all-time football nicknames and much more in the 2003 MU Football Media Guide.