The Heroes have moved to the Big Sandy Superstores Arena for its second season, bringing the team to the center of the city and near the Pullman Square entertainment complex. Second-year head coach Gary McPeek is excited about that move and even more excited about season two kicking off Saturday night. "The move will allow fans to be right on top of the field for games, even closer than they were in this building for hockey," McPeek told listeners on the Insider Sportsline program on WRVC 930 AM on Wednesday. "The people here have been great, they have given us plenty of practice opportunities here and the building is really fan and football friendly. We are looking forward to a big crowd in downtown, near all the things that are going on downtown with Pullman Square and the resturants and clubs that people can go to before and after the games."
In year one, the team was in the Cabell County Memorial Field House, where the kicking game was limited by the low ceiling and lights. McPeek said former Herd kicker Nick Kelly is really looking forward to hitting long kickoffs into the net and field goal without trying to hit the ball to keep it low. Also at the Field House, the fans had to sit upstairs above the action, but the arena will put them right at the walls which had to be padded to protect players. One thing that has not changed, however, is a huge number of former Marshall stars make up the bulk of the Huntington team. "Defensively, it is an all-Marshall unit," said McPeek. That defense is led by Jamus Martin, who led the Heroes in sacks last year, Marcus Hairston, Jamall Whyce and new addition Chris Terrell, who had to miss the 2006 season with MU with academic concerns. "There are not a better pair of defensive ends in the league than Jamus and Marcus," said McPeek, "and with Whyce and Terrell, we can jam up the middle with two 300-plus pound players."
Charlie Tynes returns for the Huntington Heroes who open year two on Saturday (file photo from Herd Insider).
In the secondary, former Herd linebackers Charlie Tynes and Michael "Kool-Aid" Owens return from the 2006 Heroes. Other MU stars in the defensive backfield include Chris Royal, Craig Chisholm, Ivan Clark and Mark Littlejohn, who ran track for Marshall.
Chris Royal returned this interception 38 yards against UCF in 2004 and will be part of the all-MU defense for the Huntington indoor football team again this year (HI file photo).
On the offensive side of the ball, McPeek had a spirited competition for the quarterback job as Fred Ray, who was an option QB at Ohio, did not return. Rust should not be a problem for the winner for the opening start, as former MU quarterback Jimmy Skinner just finished his Marshall career in November of this past season. "Jimmy Skinner will be out starter," said McPeek. "I feel Skinner is a winner. Every time he comes into the game, I feel the level of every player on the field goes up a notch." Skinner played in 10 game last year for the Herd and completed 62-of-104 passes (60 percent) for 878 yards. He threw for eight touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Jimmy Skinner will make his professional debute against Carolina for the Heroes on Saturday (HI file photo).
Also in the backfield is Donte Newsome, who had a great year rushing for the Heroes last year, and Dionte Wilson, both from MU. New is James Spencer-Howell from Morehead State and William Schaffer from the University of Charleston. Up front Nate McPeek returns to the football field for the first time since 2003, following back surgury and a loss down to about 280 pounds at a tackle. "I feel great," said the younger McPeek, nephew to the coach, at media day last month, "and the doctors have given me the OK to play. It helps to have someone in Luke Salmons who went through the same surgery and played without problems last season." Salmons returns at another starting position at center and Chris Barnes, who got a lot of playing time last year at tackle for the Herd, is also playing that same position for the Heroes and still protecting Skinner. Greg Barnum from Stephen F. Austin and Kevin Hundel is also on the roster.
>Donte Newsome, shown on a 52-yard TD against Miami RedHawks in 2004, is back at running back for the Heroes (HI file photo).
Returning at receiver are Leonard Moore, who played at Pikeville, James Hawkins (Bowling Green), Gerald Clark (North Greenville) and Shane Holsinger (Eastern Kentucky). New this year are Jeff Tillman (Shawnee), Thomas Riley (Univ. of Charleston) and Connie Brown (UNLV). The backup quarterback is injured in Ramon Robinson, who will stay on as QB coach and assistant offensive coordinator.