Herd Works Wednesday Morning, Kicks P.M.

One down, one to go, was the theme of Wednesday morning when the Thundering Herd finished the next-to-last morning workout with some highlights on both sides of the ball. Defensively, you would have not know that, however, as Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter gave his white-shirted charges about an ear-full for 15 minutes after Head Coach Mark Snyder dismissed the team.

As the humidity level and the heat rose during the morning, Marshall looked a bit sluggish at times but Snyder was not necessarily surprised or troubled by the let down as the Herd heads down the stretch in camp. "This makes teaching easier, that's for sure," said Snyder of the 80-degree temps that the Herd has had this year. Last year, the injuries suffered by the team were much worse with the days and days of 90 to 95-degree heat and heat index on a number of days at 105 to 110. The Herd will begin to work more on Illinois State on Thursday's single workout and Friday's final double-dip, but Snyder emphasized his team still has lots to do about itself.

"We'll still get some work done," said Snyder of the next two days. The team will cut back, "to an extent," but will also give the scout team Illinois State plays to run. "There will be some work done, it will not be full-board on our opponent." Snyder will work on some individual this afternoon at 3 p.m. in another closed workout, some 7-on-7 and then turn to kicking, punting and coverage of those in the kick scrimmage.

After that, he will pack up his senior class and head to "Paint The Capital City Green," the Marshall pep rally beginning at 6 p.m. at the Embassy Suites in Charleston. For the first time, tickets are available at the door for $35., according to John Sutherland of the Big Green Scholarship Foundation. Snyder understands the importance of the Kanawha Valley to his program, plus the impact of the rally on his players.

"I think our fan base has grown in Kanawha County," said Snyder, "and the Big Green has done a good job. Charleston has a Quarterback Club up there and our fan base is growing, and it's needs to. That's a populated area, and some of those people up there root for the school up north and we've been trying to sell them on it's alright to root for both. It's a great venue and that's why I am going to take the seniors. The years I've been, I have taken three or four players but looked around and said, 'Hey, I wish our players could see this, I wish our team could be here."

Even with the sounds of the Marshall "Marching Thunder" Marching Band wafting over the East wall of the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, as they practice on the grass fields just east of the stadium, Snyder realizes sometimes the team and coaches can be a bit isolated from the real world and from the fan base. "Sitting here in our little world, our little bubble world, and we don't know the excitement that's going on out there. It's our first chance to feel the buzz that is out there."

Marshall coach Mark Snyder is taking all 15 seniors to "Paint The Capital City Green" on Wednesday evening. Tickets are available at the door of the Embassy Suites in Charleston for $35. file photo by Greg Perry, Herd Insider (2005)

Snyder also talked about his walk-on program, and how important they have been recently, with the program not at 85 scholarships until just this year since Snyder took over in 2005. Marshall has a great history of walk-on players becoming stars, like Ron "The Jet" Lear, the first true-freshman walk-on in NCAA history to rush for over 1,000 yards in 1979; Billy Lyon, who walked on in 1993 and became a two-time All-American and played for the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers; Randy Moss, who walked on after losing his scholarship at Florida State and was a two-time All-American, Heisman candidate and multiple All-Pro with the Vikes, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.

Current walk-ons in the starting line-up include right guard Matt Altobello, from Keyser ( W.Va.) High School and James Burkes from Charleston's Capital H.S. Burkes, who made his first trip with the Herd to Cincinnati last year after an impressive sub-Varsity game with Hargrave Military Academy that included a defensive score, quickly became a starter due to the injuries on the defensive line in 2007. So far, Burkes continues to be the starter although he is being pushed daily by prop 48 players who sat out in '07, like Delvin Johnson and Brandon Bullock, or sophomore Eric Vint, who like Burkes moved from offense to defense for a better opportunity to play, plus scholarship players like Johnny Jones or Michael Janac. Many will play this year in Minter's rotation on defense.

"We have senior speeches, and that was part of his talk this year," said Snyder of Altobello's talk to the team. "His heroes this winter were the walk-ons, because he has been there and done that." Snyder acknowledged the proud history of walk-ons here, and stressed even with 85 rides this year, the walk-on program is very important to get his team to 105 players in camp. "They have a role, no question. Walk-ons are very important, really important (the last couple of years) but even at 85, they are important and important across the country. You have got to have them."

Snyder was happy with the work of his team on Wednesday early. "We got some work down, even if we were a little sluggish." Early on, D.J. Wingate broke up a pass from Mark Cann to Courtney Edmonson, but then was beat two plays later for about a 25-yard gain by E.J. Wynn. Ashton Hall returned to practice from a slight injury with a tackle for loss on Chubb Small, but then two plays later Terrell Edwards broke a 20-yard run. Brian Anderson was sacked by a blitzing Brandon Burns, then Edwards finished the "live-thud" period with another nice run.

Terrell Edwards, shown in last spring's Green-White Game, broke a big run for a touchdown in today's practice. 2008 file photo by Greg Perry/HI staff

In team, Cann found Lee Smith for a nice opening gain, then Darius Marshall ran for 20-plus yards. Back came Cann and Smith for another gain, but Small was tackled at the line on another blitz by Burns, who is making the coaches sit up and take notice of the junior college transfer. Janac hit Small in the backfield, but back came the senior tailback with back-to-back gains for first downs. Then the biggest offensive play of the day came when Edwards found a crease and was gone for a 51-yard touchdown. The defense tightend up with stops by Vinny Curry and D. Johnson, a tackle for loss by Kellen Harris and a pass broken up by Josh Miller.

As the team flipped ends, T.J. Drakeford blew up a screen pass from Cann to Edmonson by blowing through a block by Wynn and making a stop behind the line. Cann hit Emmanuel Spann for a short gain, then was sacked (due to tight secondary coverage) by Janac, and Cann's pass to Cody Slate was stopped far short of a first by Phillip Gamble. Cann missed to Edmonson and was sacked by John Jacobs before giving way to Brian Anderson, who had a pass broken up by Ahmed Shakoor and a short gain to Ryan Smith stopped for one-yard by Hall. He was sacked on the next play by Harris and John Youboty, but rebounded to hit Tavaris Thompson for a big gain. His final pass was right on target, but once again Edmonson let the pass go through his hands and nearly turned into a pick for Omar Brown, who also couldn't handle the "Hot Potato." Practice ended with a C.J. Spillman interception of Craig Rantanamorn going to an 80-yard touchdown.

C.J. Spillman returned the final play of Wednesday's practice for an 80-yard touchdown, much like his touchdown against Memphis two year's ago. 2006 file photo by Greg Perry, Herd Insider

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