Heroes Look For 4-0 Start & Herd Pads Up Sat.

It will be a big day of football and Final Four in the Huntington area on Saturday. The Thundering Herd will put the pads on for the first time this spring in a practice open to the public at 11 a.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The Final Four tips at 6 p.m. with Memphis versus UCLA, followed by UNC versus Kansas. At 7 p.m., the Heroes look to go 4-0 to start 2008 at Reading, Pa. Saturday night.

Saturday's full-pads practice at 11 a.m. is open to the public. The Herd will practice in Charleston on April 12 (11 a.m. at University of Charleston Stadium, i.e. Laidley Field) and conclude spring practice with the annual Green-White game at Edwards Stadium on Saturday, April 26 at 3 p.m., heard on ESPN 930-AM in Huntington with Eliot Parker and Luke Beach on the call. Head Coach Mark Snyder enters his third full spring with a wealth of returning players and competition this spring should be intense as the Herd welcomes back 33 players who have started at least once in their careers.

The Marshall offense will be led by first-year offensive coordinator John Shannon, who coached Toledo to great success with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Shannon will have the task of finding a replacement for 2007 starting quarterback Bernard Morris, who is looking to join former MU QBs Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich in the National Football League. The Herd will also look to fill holes along the offensive line where it must replace All-Conference USA center Doug Legursky, also with a chance to go to the NFL, as well as left tackle John Inman. Starting right guard Brian Leggett will move to center and starting left guard Josh Evans and right tackles Daniel Baldridge and Brandon Campbell all return. Also, there is good news for Shannon with Marshall returning nearly all of its skill players, including a stable of running backs led by 2007 Conference USA All-Freshman selection Darius Marshall, plus vets like Chubb Small and Kelvin Turner. Veterans also abound on the outside as Marshall brings back a number of vertical threats including All C-USA tight end Cody Slate and wide outs Darius Passmore, now wearing No. 1, Emmanuel Spann, Courtney Edmonson and E.J. Wynn.

Sophomore Darius Marshall leads a talented group of backs into Herd's first pad practice, including "Hoot-N-Holler," at 11 a.m. at the JCE Stadium. photo from Herdzone.com

The Marshall defense is looking to rebound from a 2007 season that was filled with injuries and will have its third new defensive coordinator in three season with Rick Minter taking over. The former head coach at Cincinnati looks to have a quality pool of players to work with. The defensive line should get a huge boost from the return this fall of 2006 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Albert McClellan and senior defensive lineman Montel Glasco who were sidelined a year ago with injuries. A stable of talented young players that benefited from significant playing time a year ago, and the return of impact players like All-C-USA selection C.J. Spillman at safety and Maurice Kitchens at linebacker give Marshall fans plenty to be excited about on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, Marshall returns its top four and seven of its top 10 tacklers from a year ago. The Herd is showing a three-four look in two practices, allowing talented linebackers like Mario Harvey, Antwan Booker and juco Andre Portis to be more active. The Herd will add Vinny Curry, Delvin Johnson and Brandon Bullock to the stable of defensive linemen like Michael Janac, Shane Moore, Johnny Jones, James Burkes and others when those first three end sitting out the 2007-08 year for academic concerns.

The Huntington Heroes will travel to the Reading Express, shown from earlier action in Reading, Pa., to battle to the top spot in the AIFA Eastern Conference Saturday at 7 p.m., and heard on ESPN 930-AM in Huntington. photo from Reading Express

Also on Saturday, the Huntington Heroes look to go 4-0 to start the season, but will have a tough test with a road game at the Reading (Pa.) Express in AIFL action Saturday night at 7 p.m., with a 6:45 p.m. air time from the Sovereign Center. Ticket sales have already topped 3,000 on Military and College Night, with discount tickets for service men and women, along with students, with ID.

The Heroes are coming off a hard-fought 40-35 win last weekend at the Carolina Speed in Concord, N.C. Quarterback Darnell Kennedy threw four touchdown, two each to Tario Frederick and Maurice Bryant, and Wilmont Perry scored his seventh rushing touchdown of the year. Defensively, Jermaine Blakeley blocked a point-after touchdown that was returned for two points by safety Larry Thompson and the Heroes held the Speed without a score on three first-half trips inside the five-yard line.

Huntington opened the season with a 56-9 win at home over the Florida Sting Rays in Heroes Head Coach Teddy Keaton's inaugural game with the team. Huntington knocked off the Florence Phantoms in week two in the Big Sandy Superstores Arena in Huntington, 47-32. The Express, who lost the title last year to Keaton when he was coaching the Lakeland (Fla.) Thunderbolts, will be looking for revenge on Keaton and players like Thompson, Blakeley, linebacker Eric Potochney, center Junior Louissant and defensive back Otheese Wells, all who played for the Thunderbolts.

Reading opened the season with a 36-27 win over the Baltimore Mariners. They lost at the Carolina Speed, 49-17, but rebounded with a 44-34 home win over the previously undefeated Erie River Rats, who will play at Huntington next Friday night. Former Express quarterback Trent Jones moved to defense and scored two second half touchdowns in the win over Erie, while new quarterback Rob Flowers threw three second half touchdowns in his first action for the Express. Flowers was 11-of-22 in the game for 121 yards and the three scoring passes. He also rushed 11 times for 33 yards, so the Heroes defense must contain the athletic QB in the pocket to get the win.

Huntington is the only team in the East Division without a loss, and the only team in the AIFL east of the Mississippi River to still be undefeated (Wyoming and Arizona are 1-0, playing a round-robin schedule with Utah and New Mexico until the playoffs). If the Heroes finish with the best record in the East, and they are currently 2-0 against Carolina and Florence, then Huntington and the Big Sandy Superstore Arena would host the AIFL Championship. Erie is 3-1, and are off this week before coming to Huntington next Saturday.

Huntington Heroes games will be on ESPN 930-AM in Huntington for the rest of the season, except for a conflict with Marshall baseball on May 3 when they host the Fayetteville (N.C.) Guard, and that game at home will be on WCMI 1340-AM. All Heroes games can be downloaded at the ESPN 930-AM website, www.wrvc.am, on the worldwide web. The Final Four programming will be on ESPN 930-AM and WCMI 1340-AM starting at 3 p.m. Saturday. WCMI will stay with the basketball all evening, while 930-AM will rejoin basketball following the Heroes game at Reading.

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