Hill follows Marshall tradition

If Marshall coach Bob Pruett had any lingering doubts about whether the school's recent tradition of standout quarterbacks would continue, his fears were put to rest after Saturday's season-opening win over Hofstra.

Stan Hill, hoping to maintain the standard of excellence established by Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich before him, debuted in style for the Thundering Herd. He passed for 344 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-21 win, completing 25-of-37 passes.

There were flaws in Hill's impressive first outing. He threw three interceptions (two of which glanced off of his receivers) and fumbled twice.

But Hill demonstrated that he is capable of guiding a high-octane offense without collapsing under the pressure inherent in following Marshall's two most famous football players.

Hill completed touchdown passes of 27 yards to Josh Davis and 51 yards to Darius Watts.

''We scored 45 points but turned it over five times,'' Pruett said. ''With that said, we did put up more than 600 yards of total offense and that's pretty good. ''Stan proved he could throw the ball tonight, and I saw a lot of good things in him. Two of those interceptions were off receivers' hands -- he can't catch it for them. I mean the guy threw for 344 yards.That's not too bad.''

For a first game, Saturday's effort was a good start, Hill said.

''Overall it was a good performance,'' he said. ''I was disappointed in myself. I had a couple of balls tipped by receivers and intercepted. I threw them a little high. I also had two fumbles because I didn't secure the ball. But all in all we looked good. We will get a lot better.''

Suffice it to say, Hill has many strides to make to equal the exploits of Pennington and Leftwich, but he had a great teacher in Leftwich while serving as a seldom-used backup in his first two years at Marshall.

When his number was finally called after Leftwich was injured in a crucial game with Miami (Ohio) last season, Hill responded by leading the Thundering Herd to a 36-34 victory that kept Marshall's hopes alive for a Mid-American Conference championship. The performance was the best by a first-time starter at quarterback in Marshall history, and earned Hill MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Perhaps more importantly, the confidence-building effort let Hill know he can be a dependable replacement for Leftwich. He passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns that day.

''It's great to finally be starting,'' Hill said. ''It was tough sitting around for three years watching. But I got to learn a lot from Byron. There is nobody better to have start in front of you. He taught me a lot. You‚ve got to know how to handle the team and manage the offense. He showed me all of that. ''I don't really feel pressure to be as good as he was.I just go out and do my job. I am not Chad or Byron. I just do what I do best -- try to get the ball to the right people.''

The biggest test yet awaits Hill on Saturday, when Marshall meets a more unforgiving opponent in Tennessee.

''Stan is doing a super job,'' Marshall quarterbacks coach Larry Kueck said. ''Part of the reason for this is that he grew up and was raised as a quarterback by a really good quarterback. Even though it was unfortunate for us, Byron's injury was fortunate for Stan because he got to develop some confidence. That really carried over for him.''

The Marshall coaching staff doesn't expect Hill to put up the eye-popping numbers of those that preceded him. His style doesn't necessarily mirror that of Pennington or Leftwich.

''A lot of it (success) will have to do with who is around a quarterback,'' Kueck said. ''If the running game is really strong, then maybe you run the ball a little more. If there is a certain ball that Stan throws a little better, then maybe you work the offense to take advantage of that. You just emphasize the things that he does well.''

There is plenty of help available to ease the pressure placed on Hill's shoulders. Receivers Watts and Davis have strong credentials. Watts holds the MAC record for touchdown receptions (36) and ranks third among active receivers with 3,063 receiving yards. Davis ranks eighth among returning receivers with 2,152 yards.

Franklin Wallace leads a strong running game. If Hill should falter, junior Graham Gochneaur will get a shot at leading the Thundering Herd offense. Still, it is Hill's position to lose.

''We're starting out with Stan and will see what happens,'' Pruett said. ''He showed what he can do last year filling in for Byron, and we are confident in what he can do on the field. That does not mean there won't be competition at that position because we want to see good competition between Stan and Graham.'' Added Kueck: ''Graham is getting better. The thing he needs most of all is repetitions. He just needs to go out and practice and get more comfortable with the system.''

Hill knows committing fewer turnovers is a must against the Vols.

''I thought the offense looked great,'' he told the media after the Hofstra game. ''We just had too many turnovers. You can't have turnovers and win big ball games. We have to come out and eliminate those against Tennessee.

''We are excited about playing Tennessee. You can't ask for anything better. They are a great team. We just have to execute and limit our turnovers and try to come out with a W."

Pruett echoed that sentiment.

''There are several things we need to work on,'' he said. ''We had too many penalties and too many turnovers, but we will get them corrected. All in all, we can't come away feeling real bad, because it is always good to win. I think we have a chance to improve and be a very good football team.''

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