By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON – When Marshall takes the field on Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, it’ll be the first time in 15 years The Herd will do so with a in-state product getting the start at quarterback.
Charleston-native and George Washington High School graduate, Grant Wells won the battle for the starting job in fall camp, over Huntington High alum Luke Zban, whose father, Mark, was the last in-state quarterback to start for Marshall in 1995.
Wells, a redshirt freshman, saw action in one game last season, carrying the ball on a fake punt. He was a multi-year Class AAA All-Stater during his career at George Washington High School, known for having a live arm and ability to throw on the run.
“You just watch him mature, and he gets better every day in practice,” said Doc Holliday, who enters his 11th season as Marshall’s head coach. “Our team has great confidence in him, and I’m just anxious to watch him go play.”
“He has shown throughout camp that there’s not a throw he can’t make,” assessed third-year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey. “He’s always got his feet set and he’s ready to throw, whether he’s on the move or not. He gets his body turned in position to make the throw he has to make.”
Wells is confident heading into his debut after immersing himself in Marshall’s offensive scheme on and off the practice field.
“Certainly, we’re going to take all the time we need to go prepare for any game,” Wells said. “No matter if it was my first start or my last start, we’re going to take all the time we have. I feel good at this point, but we still have lots of preparing to do for a good team coming in here.”
NEW GAME DAY PROTOCOLS
Marshall Athletic Department officials say full Covid-19 protocols will be in place for Saturday’s game. Those protocols include social-distanced seating, mask-wearing while entering the stadium and while seated, no tailgating and no re-entry into Joan C. Edwards Stadium once a fan leaves the facility. Marshall’s “Marching Thunder” is being limited in how many students may play and the band won’t be allowed on the field, instead playing from the stands.
Marshall officials say the stadium can handle around 12,500 fans in a social-distancing setting and they are hopeful their game operation plan can be a model for other FBS schools that are playing football this fall, especially since many will open the season with no fans in the stands.
“Our kids understand the importance that this football program has for our fan base and our community,” Holliday said. “Any time they can line up and play in front of them, they’re excited about doing that.”
EKU COACH MAKING DEBUT
Saturday’s game is also a debut for new EKU Head Coach Walt Wells.
Wells, who spent the past two seasons as a quality control assistant coach at Kentucky, is no stranger to Colonels football. He served as an assistant under legendary EKU Coach Roy Kidd from 1997 to 2002 and was an assistant again with the Colonels in 2015. This is his first head coaching job. He’s also worked as an assistant at Tennessee, South Florida, Western Kentucky, New Mexico State and Cumberland University.
The Herd and Colonels are meeting for the 20th time on Saturday, with Marshall leading the series 11-8-1. The schools met regularly during the 1980s and 1990s as they both regularly contended for NCAA Division 1-AA titles. The Colonels won national titles in 1979 and 1982, while Marshall took the crown in 1992 and 1996.
The two teams last meeting was in Huntington in 2018, a 32-16 Marshall win. The Colonels are 4-7-1 all-time in Huntington.
Marshall and Eastern Kentucky are both playing shortened schedules due to Covid-19.
The Thundering Herd currently has nine games scheduled, six of them at home. A game at East Carolina, originally scheduled for September 12th, has been postponed due to high Covid-19 numbers in North Carolina, but might be played later this season. Marshall has only one other game this month, a September 19th home game with Appalachian State.
EKU, a founding member of the Ohio Valley Conference, decided to reject the OVC’s plan to not play football this fall, instead cobbling together an 8-game schedule which includes home games with Central Arkansas, Stephen F. Austin and Western Carolina. The Colonels play at WVU on September 12th and actually play Central Arkansas twice this season (home and away). Other EKU road games are at Troy and The Citadel.