6:06pm: Sportsline with Tony Caridi

Herd has grown up a lot this season

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.– The 2013 version of the Thundering Herd is a perfect example of how much difference a single year can make.  By this point last season, Marshall’s equipment managers were taking inventory and coaches were on the recruiting trail looking for players to help improve the program.

This year, Marshall took a giant step forward in the progress of the program, winning nine games and reaching the Conference USA Championship game for the first time.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a team that has grown as much as this team has,” complimented coach Doc Holliday.

The most obvious growth came on the defensive side of the ball where coordinator Chuck Heater turned one of the worst units in the country in 2012 and into a solid group that took the pressure off the Marshall offense to score on every single possession.

“The improvements that have been made on defense to become the number one most improved scoring defense in the country is special within itself,” said Holliday.  “That got us to where we are.”

“The leadership on this team has grown tremendously. I’ve been around some good football teams, but I’m not sure I’ve been around ones that have come so far. We’re plus-5 more wins than we had a year ago. We played for the conference and are in an outstanding bowl. We’re not near satisfied because our goal was always to win the conference championship and when you don’t do that then you’re never satisfied.”

Many of the leaders were thrust into leadership roles very early on in their careers.  Rakeem Cato was named the starting quarterback as a true freshman while Chris Jasperse has been the starting center for three years.  Both were voted as captains for the season by their teammates and both are only juniors.

Gator Hoskins came to Marshall and the coaches thought he would end up playing defense.  Instead he’s become one of the most prolific tight ends in Marshall history.

“I’ve never been a part of a team that has grown so much, not only from becoming a better team on both sides of the ball, but also the leadership part of it and how they’ve grown as a team. They’re a fun team to be around.”

With that leadership has come the change in culture that has been talked about for the last four years.  It’s a coaching cliche to say a “change in culture” is needed when a new coach is hired to take over a struggling program.  Doc Holliday wanted to change the culture and now four years later has, thanks in part to the leaders that have developed over the last few years.

“The one constant that all the seniors talked about was how much they’ve all grown as a team and how the culture has changed in the last couple years. It’s neat to see a team grow up like that and I’m not sure I’ve been around on that has grown up as much and changed as much as this team has in one year.”

The program has made significant strides in four years and winning over Maryland in a bowl game would validate that the progress is real and the program is ready to make the next big step forward.

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