Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

June 11, 2012

'Voice of The Herd' being heard

PRINCETON — What a way to begin. Steve Cotton became the radio play-by-play voice of Marshall athletics in 1996.

All the Thundering Herd did was win every football game, including the biggest prize in what was then-Division 1-AA football.

“I dreamed about that for a long time,” Cotton said. “Then it turned into a situation where the first year I did it Marshall went undefeated and won the 1996 national championship with Randy Moss doing his thing.

“15-0 my first year, so I got ingrained there pretty quickly.”

There are currently three radio announcers in the ACC who got their start in Marshall. That includes Stan Cotten at Wake Forest, Bill Roth at Virginia Tech and Wes Durham at Georgia Tech.

Steve Cotton, who was in Princeton last week for the Marshall Coaches Tour, is fine where he is.

Cotton wound up at Marshall thanks to the efforts of Stan Cotten, a close friend, but not a relative of his.

“He had gotten the Marshall radio job, I decided to go to grad school and he convinced me to come here,” said Cotten, who served as a color analyst for three seasons with the Herd from 1993-95. “When I finished up he got the radio job at Wake Forest and so I replaced him at Marshall.”

Seventeen years later, and Cotton is still the unmistakable voice of the Thundering Herd.

“It has been a great place,” said Cotton, a 1987 graduate of Florida. “When I went there I planned to be there for a year to get a graduate degree and be who knows where, but the place grabbed a hold of me.

“It’s been an awesome place.”

Much has changed at Marshall since his arrival in 1996. In fact, it changed the next season when the Herd moved into the world of Division I.

“It is a different world from the days of the Southern Conference when you would make the trip to Lexington to play VMI and heading to Western Carolina,” said Cotton, who was able to be the radio voice at Carson-Newman from 1987-91 when the Eagles won a pair of Division II football championships. “It seems like, on one hand it was yesterday, but it is also a world apart from what you do now when you go to one of the big cities,  heading to Dallas and Orlando and Houston and that kind of thing.  

“That is a little different than Cullowhee, North Carolina.”

Marshall, which moved to Division I in 1997, spent eight years in the Mid-American Conference, winning five football titles, before settling into Conference USA.

Cotton thinks that was a move that fit the Marshall athletics program.

“It is a good league, it is a competitive league, a good match for Marshall,” Cotton said. “East Carolina, Southern Miss and UAB have a lot of similarities with Marshall University.

“The Marshall fans seem to have a mentality of being more of a southern league. The Mid-American Conference was great to Marshall to make the transition and move on up and that kind of thing.

“I think the fans have that southern mindset and that is a little more in tune with what we are doing now.”

Change is happening again in major college football, with conference realignment and playoff possibilities leaving observers wondering what will happen next.

Count Cotton among those looking on with interest.

“Who knows anywhere in the country what we are moving to,” Cotton said.  “You just wake up every day to see who is in what conference. I know Mr.  (Marshall Athletic Director Mike) Hamrick and his staff are trying to make sure Marshall is as well prepared as it can be if moves have to me made.

“Make yourself as attractive as you can be. If no moves are made we still are very well off, we are in a good spot.”

What concerns many among the “smaller” major colleges is where they will be when it comes to a college football playoff and trying to find a place in the conversation.  

“We’ll see, hopefully they will have an avenue to get there if you are good enough,” Cotton said. “You have got to prove it on the field. You have got to earn it and I think if you are in that situation you have got to do a whole lot to catch somebody’s attention and make them throw you in there with Alabama and LSU and whoever else that has done it year in and year out.

“Hopefully there is an avenue where everyone has a chance at it.”

No matter what happens, Cotton is excited about the possibility of a “real” champion won through a playoff, something that is done in every level of college football but the level that matters most

“I don’t have any idea on all the conferences, or even an opinion on what’s best, but having been through those 1-AA years and the playoffs, that was so much fun and you knew who the champion was,” Cotton said.

“It was proven, there was no arguing about after it was over.”

The eight-time winner of the West Virginia Sportscaster of the Year is a proponent of playing it out on the field.

“I think that part is great, I love the idea of whatever the playoff system is, whether it is four games, I would love to see eight and I don’t have a problem if they went to 16, but I know that is not being considered,” Cotton said. “I love the fact that you are going to play it off and have a real champion.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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