John Taft was greeted by Mike Bartrum during a timeout of the Marshall-Rice Homecoming football game last Saturday in Huntington. photo by Greg Perry/HI staff
Marshall University inducted ten former athletes into the Marshall Hall of Fame on Friday in front of a near standing-room only crowd of over 200 Herd fans at the Pullman Plaza Hotel. Mike Bartrum, Ron Darby, Aaron Ferguson, Frank Huffman and Billy Lyon from football; Mike Kaufman from baseball; Mark Taylor from soccer; and Bob Allen, Rodney Holden and John Taft from basketball became the newest members of the MU HOF. Also elected this year was Byron Leftwich, the former Herd QB who is the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons this season, but injured recently and unable to attend.
Bob Allen was a center for the Herd basketball team from 1965-68. He is still fourth all-time in rebounds with 919 and helped MU to back-to-back NIT berths.
Mike Bartrum, who played from MU from 1988-1992, was an All-American tight end and recently retired NFL player (Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs), as well as a Herd pitcher.
Ron Darby played football from 1986-89. Darby is still third all-time in rushing at Marshall with 3,903 yards, including a Southern Conference title in 1988 and a trip to the I-AA playoffs in both 1987 and 1988 as a member of the Herd.
Aaron Ferguson played from1993-96. He was an All-American football guard and captain of 1996 National Championship team, as well as a MU pitcher/first baseman.
Rodney Holden played for "Huck's Herd" from1984-88. An All-Southern Conference forward, he helped the Herd to four SC titles, one NIT appearance and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Frank Huffmanwas an all-state player at Beckley and played for Cam Henderson at Marshall from 1936-38. He was an All-Buckeye Conference player for Marshall and later was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals, playing three seasons in the NFL before serving in the Army in WWII. He died in 1981, after working many years for International Nickel in Huntington.
Mike Kaufman came to Marshall as a former Air Force veteran who walked for football in 1971. He then helped the Herd to its first NCAA Regional in baseball in 1973, 20 wins in ‘74 and 24 wins in 1975.
Byron Leftwich played at MU from 1998-2002. The Falcons' starting quarterback was a former Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and sixth in Heisman voting in 2002 for Herd.
Billy Lyon played with Ferguson from 1993-96. Like Ferguson, he was a captain on the 15-0 1996 National Championship team, an All-American defensive lineman and former NFL player for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.
John Taft played for three coaches, starting with Rick Huckabay in 1987-91. Taft is the No. 2 scorer in MU history, with 2,332 points and helped the Herd to the 1988 NIT and an upset in 1991 of No. 7-ranked East Tennessee on Senior Night, when Taft's No. 22 was retired.
Mark Taylor is the all-time leader in saves in goal for Marshall men's soccer. He played for the Herd from 1987-90.
Leftwich, and previously elected former MU players and professionals in the National Football League like New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington (2005 elected) and New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss (elected 2006), will be inducted at a later date. The HOF committee is considering a banquet in late February during a home men's basketball weekend to have a dinner for the three professional former Herd stars, after the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl are done in the NFL. Details will be released later about this possible NFL superstars induction ceremony.
Darby, now in Columbia, S.C. and with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, was making his second trip to Huntington since a reunion of the 1987 team last season, but that was the first time since 1990. "Last year was first time I've been back to Huntington," said the small, but powerful, back who gained nearly 4,000 yards while Tony Petersen and John Gregory were passing for over 13,000 yards through the air. "Huntington's different, that's for sure, and there have been some nice improvements." Darby said the Hall induction is something no one every expects. "You don't know. When I first came to Marshall, it wasn't my goal to go in the Hall of Fame. It was to play and try to get an education, and it is an honor."
Ferguson, who makes his home in the Huntington area after growing up in Blountville, Tennessee, told the audience his visit to the 1992 banquet, after the Herd won the National Championship, was a big reason he came to Marshall. "Listening to guys like Mike Bartrum and Troy Brown, it made me realize this was a special place and somewhere I wanted to come." While Ferguson won All-Southern Conference and All-American honors, it is different for a lineman to enter the hall compared to a running back, tight end or even defensive lineman, as there are no stats recorded on offensive line play.
"That's the story of being an offensive lineman," said Ferguson, who had 48 members of his family and friends at the banquet. "We get our praise and all of our glory for how running backs like Ron did. The success they have is a direct influence on how well the offensive line blocked. Winning makes you proud, not winning awards. I did not imagine this, I can promise you that. When Jim Donnan offered me a scholarship, that was one of the proudest moments of my life. To hear his reaction, that's what you want, to be wanted. This is something else, something I, or my family, will never forget."
Bartrum, just recently retired from the Eagles as long snapper and tight end, said at the banquet he wanted everyone in the room to stand, because in his time at Marshall he had grown to think of those he had met as not just friends but family. "We are all in the Marshall family," said Bartrum, who runs the Bartrum-Brown Camp every spring at MU's Joan C. Edwards Stadium for area youth. Money raised at the camp is split three ways: to Marshall, to Huntington youth groups (where Brown, also in the Hall, and his family make their home) and to youth groups in the Pomeroy-Meigs, Ohio, area where Bartrum grew up and now lives with his family.
Taft still looks like the player who led the SC in scoring for three straight seasons, and he also had not been back to Marshall for some time. "Huntington has changed, the university has added on a lot, but it really looks good. The school looks progressive," said the native of Huntsville, Alabama, where he currently lives. Taft, like most of his fellow inductees, was very humble about the HOF honor. "I thrilled to be a part of this, it's a great deal. As athletes, we train hard, play hard and work hard to be our best. But this is something you never imagine in all that work, it's a great honor for me and the rest of the inductees. It's hard to imagine a prestigious honor, to be part of a small group honored for all the athletes who play here."
Taft will also get his degree from Marshall through the Regents program in December, and getting that degree from MU was very important to him. "I wouldn't have it any other way," said Taft. "It had to come from Marshall. That's where I started and that's where it had to finish. For me, that's the finishing touch on my career. Like they say, better late than never. Now I can move on in my life."
Kaufman, who played baseball in the mid-1970s, had been in the Air Force and in the Vietnam War after graduation from Stonewall Jackson H.S. in Charleston, W.Va.before coming to MU to try out for the Young Thundering Herd team in 1971. He changed to baseball in the spring of 1972 at the request of legendary Herd baseball coach Jack Cook and helped the Herd to its first NCAA trip in 1973, then a first-ever 20-win season in 1974 and then 24 wins in 1975.
"I told my friends last night that I was proud of playing with that group of players, it wasn't just the individual statistics. It was the fact that for three straight years, we won more games the next year than the year before (18-20-24 in 1973-74-75) and being on a winning team made it satisfying." MU baseball had struggled since Cook's retirement in 1990, posting only a 27-27 season in 2004 with the last winning season coming in 1994. New coach Jeff Waggoner has been trying to get former players like Kaufman to re-connect with the current program. "You really need to get that new stadium, near the campus. Even in our day, we played at the (Cabell County Veteran's Memorial) Field House and in the West end at St. Clouds Commons, so it was a long way for fans to travel.
"If you had a stadium on campus, the fans would come, and that would help recruiting, that would lead to winning and that's how you build a program. Just like the football stadium in the 1990s, the team took off after that." Being elected to the Hall was just another honor for the former veteran who came to MU after the Air Force when he learned of the football team being killed in the crash of 1970. He is the owner of T-Graphics in his hometown of Charleston.
"It's been overwhelming, being elected to the Hall. When I got out of high school at Stonewall Jackson, I went in the service and I got lost from most of those people I went to high school with. Coming to Marshall, I made friends and met people I am still friends with today. Many of them drove a long way to be here this weekend, and many I still call on a regular basis or get together with. It's special to be an in-state athlete, as many of the Marshall players are not from West Virginia. It's great to have grown up in the Kanawha Valley, been from this state and to have had an opportunity to play at Marshall as an native West Virginian."