Saturday A Soggy Start In Pads For Marshall

Marshall football slogged through a rainy day, but the hitting was providing the thunder and lightning for the first day of pads for the Thundering Herd this spring. Practice got off to a big start for the 150 or so fans who braved the raindrops when the "Hoot-N-Holler" drill started the hitting and fighting between the offensive and defensive units. The biggest hit of the day was a running back.

Chubb Small delievered a punishing shot on defensive back Jon Moravec when Hoot-N-Holler ended with the offense defending fourth-and-one and the defense trying to score in a three-on-three of Marshall's best blockers - Doug Legursky, John Inman and Brian Leggett - taking on the best defenders - Josh Johnson, Byron Tinker and Albert McClellan. The offense scored on 12-of-22 situtions in Hoot-N-Holler, where the offense has three plays to score in an 8-by-8 yard box, with Small three-for-four (stopped on a false start when his chinstrap wasn't snapped), plus the hit of the day, and freshman Darius Lewis, from Ironton (Ohio) High School (same high school head coach Mark Snyder quarterbacked) was four-for-four.

"The intensity was there from the get-go today," said Snyder of the first practice in pads and the Hoot-N-Holler drill. "I was proud of that. It's a far cry from where we were at this time last year." Small and Lewis are among a group of backs who have a great opportunity this spring, with rushing-leader Ahmad Bradshaw opting for the NFL Draft in April. "That (Bradshaw leaving) gave up the mind-set of just pushing harder," said Small, a junior who rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries last year, third on the team and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. "It's wide open and everybody's competing. That creates intensity among the backs this spring. I just go out and try to compete."

Lewis, on the other hand, was a bit in the doghouse last season as a true freshman. He was not in the physical shape he needed to be, but Snyder said today he thought Lewis had turned the corner in his college career. "Last year, I didn't do what I had to do," said Lewis. "Today, he gave me a chance with the second team and I just tried to prove myself and do my best. The second-team line, Chad Schoefield and the others on the line, it's all their accomplishment." Lewis certainly understands the burden of being the only Herd player on scholarship from his head coach's high school alma mater at nearby Ironton, one of the top programs in Ohio year in and year out. "It's tough to deal with, on and off the field. I get it when I go home, even from the coaches a little bit I get it. I know I'll be judged by his standard. Today, I'd give myself a 'B'." Snyder was very happy with his young running back on the day. "Lewis is a guy who knows how to get the ball into the endzone."

Hoot-N-Holler has proved a popular way to start the first day of hitting and the Herd players on both sides of the ball, along with the rain-soaked fans, were very much into the drill as even a few punches were exchanged after a couple of different plays. "We've done that in the past and what a way to end it. How about that hit by Chubb?" When asked if Small might play some defense, Snyder told the reporters they sounded like his defensive coaches. "It's some enthusiasm (for the) team, it's a way to start. Football is a physical and violent sport and that sets the tempo for two-a-days or spring ball."

Snyder got his first look at some of the new offensive and defensive linemen, but wanted to look at the tape before judging their perfomance. Senior left tackle John Inman was happy with the first day of live hitting at his new starting position but is not satisfied with where he is after just three days of practice. "I got a long way to go," said Inman, who played all four positions last season after starting at right guard in 2005. "It's a different move for me but with a new position you can always improve. It's a whole lot different, there's a lot more demands on you than there are at guard. With guys lined up on me like Josh Johnson and Albert McClellan, I can't do anything but get better. Albert is my best friend and worst enemy and he knows that. I want to give him the best look possible to make him better and he'll do the same for me."

Line coach Mike Cummings wants all the linemen to be able to play every position, so the young linemen have to not only learn their position but the other positions. "We don't do things as a man (on the line), we are a group and you have to understand the whole thing. They are young, but the nice thing is having older guys like me, David Ziegler and Doug Legursky, we're there and we can coach these guys along with coach Cummings. What they don't get in meetings, they can come to our houses and get. They come and talk to us like little brothers." Inman was also impressed with Small's big hit at the end of Hoot-N-Holler, and was one of the participants in the extra-curricular portions of that drill as he and Josh Johnson got in some extra "licks." "Whew, Chubb Small. He's our running back but he might get into a green jerseys in some practices. I didn't know he had it in him, but that's good for us as backs have to block in our passing scheme and it shows he's not afraid to stick his nose in there."

Legursky also is trying to help with the new guys from his center position, and the senior has also played guard in his career at MU. "We've got a lot of young linemen in there," said Legursky. "We've got (Daniel) Baldridge there at right tackle, Inman flipped over to left tackle and we've got Ziegler and Leggett in there inside. We've got a lot of young guys on that second line, and in individual periods we try to teach them things they haven't experienced yet. They are had workers and tough guys and we like them." Josh Evans is one of those second team linemen who is getting some reps with the ones while Ziegler is held out of live contact. The red-shirt freshman is from Oak Hill, W.Va., very near Legursky's home in Beckley. "He's a hard hitter, but he has got to learn the angles, just like all the freshmen who have to learn angles and footwork."

Snyder pointed out some players who had seperated themselves so far. "Darius Passmore, I would have like to see him out here catching some balls but he was hurt yesterday," said Snyder of the junior college receiver who was in individual drills but not team periods. "Bilal El-Amin, he showed up some today," said Snyder of his junior defensive tackle. "Maurice Kitchen is doing good, he'll be very, very vital. He knows this is his chance before the freshmen get in here," said Snyder of his linebacker, not mentioning Antwan Booker and Mario Harvey by name but who will join the team after sitting out in 2006-07. "Darius Lewis in Hoot-N-Holler and the young corners came up and hit today. Cody made some catches, the usual guys." Cody Slate scored on a long touchdown in team, but one area Snyder is not particularly happy with is the quarterback position.

"Even with out the pads (on Tuesday and Thursday), I thought we were a little shaky throwing the ball. We are not where we need to be at that position right now. Bernard looked better today, I thought he seperated himself from the other two guys today and I did not see that the first two days," said Snyder of Bernard Morris, the Herd returning starter at quarterback. The other quarterbacks in the spring mix are sophomore Wesley Beardain, who once again struggled throwing the ball, and red-shirt freshman Brian Anderson, who looked better than day two in shorts. "He (Morris) has more command and presence but we are not where we need to be at that position, not with the wide outs and depth we have right now."

The Troy Brown Fantasy campers were on the field for Hoot-N-Holler, then had their flag football game at 3 p.m. Saturday. About 25 Herd fans paid $1,000 to attend the Friday-Saturday camp, and the proceeds go towards the Marshall University Child Development Academy. Helping Brown, a 14-year wide out with the New England Patriots who was a two-time All-American for the Herd in 1991-92, were Chad Pennington of the New York Jets, who led the Herd to a perfect 13-0 season in 1999, and Mike Bartrum, who starred along with Brown on the 1992 Herd who won the National Championship in I-AA, and who now is a long-snapper and tight end for the Philadephia Eagles. Other Herd greats helping out at the camp included former MU players like defensive end Mark Mason (1989-91), linebacker William King (1990-93), offensive linemen Aaron Ferguson (1993-96) and Brian Reed (1994-97) and receivers Denero Mariott (1998-2001) and Curtis Jones (2000-2003).

"It's been a fun day," said Brown before the flag football game. "Everybody had a great time, they got to be on the field for Hoot-N-Holler thanks to Coach Snyder. MU Child Care Development is where the money goes, it's not an expensive day care. We are also trying to promote more males to enter the teaching field, especially young African-American males, there are a shortage of them." Bartrum echoed his former MU and New England teammate. "It's about all of the community coming together," said Bartrum. "People coming out and paying $1,000 to hurt themselves. Marshall and the community stepping up is special. If not for Coach Snyder, the Bartrum-Brown Football camp would not be here (at Marshall, where it moved last year after eight years at local high schools). It says alot about how Marshall is trying to get to the next level and it all stems from coach Snyder. He brings us all back, former MU guys and NFL guys, and makes us all feel welcome and, you can ask Chad or Troy, there are a lot of guys in the pros who have no relationship with their former schools."

Pennington echoed the players who preceeded him by three seasons at Marshall before he arrived in 1995 to take the Herd to the I-AA National Championship game as a true freshman before winning two bowls and moving the Herd up to Division I-A in 1997 with a No. 25 ranking in 1998 for the 12-1 Herd and a No. 10 ranking in the nation after 1999. "You understand as a former player the support you received as a student athlete," said the Draddy Award winner in 1999 as the nation's top student-athlete in college football. "It's fun to come and give back to the people who gave so much to you. Like our Gridiron Foundation, which gives our football alumni here at Marshall a chance to give back. We also want to get the word out on our passing league, coming June 26-30." Pennington was also happy with the 2007 edition of the Thundering Herd he saw today. "First day of pads for spring ball is always exciting, always interesting. Every year I was here it turned into a team brawl. You just haven't hit anybody in awhile and you take it out on each other. Then at the end, you shake hands and realize you are getting each other better. The goals, the expectations here are very high and we've been able to achieve success. But there is a price for success and I think we're headed in the right direction."

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