Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 1, 2013

Improving the defense key to better Marshall football in 2013

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The good news for Marshall football in 2012 was the offense.

Led by sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, the Thundering Herd was seventh in the nation, scoring 40.92 points per game.

The bad news?

The Marshall defense was 119th in America, allowing 43.08 points a contest.  

That formula led to a disappointing 5-7 record.

It was so bad that Marshall actually scored 59 points against East Carolina, and lost by six. The Herd also lost games in which they reached 41, 38, 34 and 31 points, and had a pair of three-point wins by scores of 54-51 and 44-41.

Changes had to be made. Marshall head coach Doc Holiday did just that, bringing in Chuck Heater as defensive coordinator, which was a good sign for Roger Topping, the president of the Four Seasons Big Green Club.

The 60-year-old Heater is a 37-year coaching veteran, who has been at 11 different schools, including working with Holliday at the University of Florida. He was at Temple last season, and the Owls were the nation’s third ranked defense behind Alabama and LSU.

“Last year we out-scored people, that is how we won,” Topping said. “You can’t continue to do that and Doc (Holliday) went out and got a new defensive coordinator who has got the guys to buy into his program.

“I think it is going to a whole better defensively than we have seen since Doc has been there.”

Holliday, who will be in Princeton on Tuesday for the Marshall Coaches Tour at the Chuck Mathena Center, hired Heater, a West Virgina native from Weston, to fix the defense.

Holliday will be joined on Tuesday by Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and men’s basketball coach Tom Herrion.

“They got their new defensive coordinator and he has made a huge difference in the defense and it showed in the spring game,” Topping said. “He has a whole different philosophy about the defense, you don’t lay back and wait for the wide receivers, you bump heads with them right on the line.

“It is just a very aggressive get-to-the ball defense that he has in place.”

The offense has no such issues. Cato, who threw for 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns last season, is surrounded by playmakers, even though the Herd did lose wide receiver Aaron Dobson to the New England Patriots of the NFL.

“What can you say about the offense? It was one of the best offenses in the country and we have got virtually everybody back and then some,” Topping said. “We did lose Dobson to the pros, but we have several receivers that seem to be stepping up to the plate,

“We have got some freshmen coming in and Cato, he just keeps getting better and better as the quarterback...It is just the whole team, the offensive line seems to be there jelling even more and our running game could be much stronger this year.”

Topping does expect to Marshall to run the ball more this season, and reinforcements have arrived to help make that happen.

“We have got a couple of 4-star recruits that are coming in and certainly they should help with the running game,” Topping said. “We have two of our three running backs back this year, and when you add the freshmen our running back position should be a lot stronger.

“You can’t be one-dimensional, and our offense is going to be a lot more wide open this year with a lot more diversity.”

Marshall opens its season on Aug. 31 by hosting Miami (Ohio). Also on the Herd slate this season is a trip to Virginia Tech, and revamped slate of Conference USA teams.  

Topping expects the defense to be key for the Thundering Herd.

“If we can get our defense where we are stopping people,” Topping said, “then we are going to have a really good season.”

• • •

While football struggled last season with defense, the Thundering Herd men’s basketball team had high hopes of possibly ending Marshall’s long NCAA tournament drought that goes back to 1987.

It didn’t happen. There were many issues, including injuries to DeAndre Kane, who left the Herd after the season and has enrolled at Iowa State.

Topping felt the issue last year came down to leadership.

“What was missing from that team was a solid leader on the floor,” Herrion said. “This is my opinion, there was not a leader on the floor, a consistent leader, one that everybody looked to and who commanded leadership on the floor, they just didn’t have it.

“When you don’t have leadership out on the floor, it is very, very difficult to win ball games. I don’t care how talented you are, if you are not playing as a team and playing more one-on-one, one guy can’t beat five guys on the court.”

Topping does feel like Marshall has a good recruiting class coming for next fall, although it won’t include 6-foot-10, 280-pound Dominic Woodson, a product of Huntington Prep.

Woodson announced earlier this week that he had chosen Memphis over the Herd.

• • •

Marshall has placed an emphasis in recent years on recruiting in southern West Virginia and even into Southwest Virginia.

The Marshall football team includes local products, Joe Woodrum, who played at Bluefield High School, and Devon Johnson, who started his prep career at Big Creek and finished up his last three seasons at Richlands.

Both Woodrum and Johnson saw action in 11 games each last season. Woodrum played at tight end and on special teams, while Johnson had 11 tackles from his linebacker position and also caught a touchdown pass.

“Marshall has done an outstanding job of recruiting in-state and regionally, they are doing extremely well,” Topping said. “The Woodrum boy from Bluefield, it is my understanding people think he is going to be playing a lot more this coming year, and Devon Johnson proved himself as a freshman last year.

“Dobson was local, he was from South Charleston, and now he is going to the pros and will be playing in New England, Doc has done a good job of recruiting locally and that has been a big help.”

Other local athletes at Marshall includes Ian Lovern, a sophomore on the men’s soccer team, and three incoming freshmen, all from Princeton, including McKenzie Akers (women’s basketball), Jessica Inman (women’s soccer) and Rebecca Downard (cheerleader).

• • •

The Marshall Coaches Tour stop will be on Tuesday at the Chuck Mathena Center, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $30 and tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information, contact Topping at (304) 920-9696, Charlie Pace at (304) 920-5441 or Susie Pace at (304) 920-5500.

—Contact Brian Woodson