— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall football fans finally have the answers to questions that have lingered throughout fall camp as to who will start in Saturday’s season opener against Norfolk State.
The Thundering Herd hosts the Spartans at 3:30 p.m., and the game can be seen on ESPN3.
The two biggest questions for Marshall’s coaching staff was picking a starting quarterback and after Rasheen Ali stepped away from the program for a personal matter, settling on a top tailback.
Texas Tech transfer Henry Colombi will start behind center on Saturday after beating out Cam Fancher for the job.
Head coach Charles Huff was sold on Colombi after the first few days of fall practices.
“You can tell by the way he studies the game and works with the offense that he’s been in a lot of games,” Huff said. “He’s not afraid to speak up in order to build a connection with his receivers.”
Marshall is Colombi’s third career stop after he first played at Utah State and then Texas Tech.
Florida State transfer Khalan Laborn is listed at Marshall’s No. 1 running back as he fills in for Ali, one of college football’s most productive players in 2021. Marshall officials indicate Ali is likely to miss at least the first two games, with the potential for more.
Laborn was a heralded recruit for Florida State in 2017 and was rated the No. 1 all-purpose running back in that class by Rivals and 247 Sports.com. In limited play for the Seminoles, Laborn rushed for 297 yards and a touchdown in 2019.
Poca’s Ethan Payne is directly behind Laborn at running back.
There are plenty of familiar names among Marshall’s group of receivers, such as Corey Gammage and Talik Keaton. That tandem is joined by talented redshirt freshman Charles Montgomery. Veterans Shadeed Ahmed and Jayden Harrison are listed as reserve receivers.
Devin Miller is the only veteran tight end for the Herd, but his top backups are Arizona transfer Stacey Marshall Jr. and Florida Atlantic transfer Rahmod Smith.
There are plenty of newcomers on Marshall’s offensive line, as the only returning regulars from last year listed as starters are Dalton Tucker and Kendrick Sartor. East Carolina transfer Trent Holler and Rutgers transfer Cedrice Paillant have been battling for the right guard position, and Holler is listed as the starter. Cabell Midland’s Logan Osburn is Marshall’s new starting center after playing other positions along the line last year.
On defense, there is size and experience among the starters. There are Marshall veterans at all four defensive line spots: Koby Cumberlander, TyQaze Leggs, Esaias Carpenter and Owen Porter along with Sam Burton, but the Herd also hopes for contributions from two Power 5 transfers — Kentucky’s Isaiah Gibson and Purdue’s Anthony Watts.
There’s also experience at linebacker with returnees Abraham Beauplan, Eli Neal and Charlie Gray listed as starters. Charleston native and former Capital standout Kerion Martin also has a chance for playing time at the ‘Stud’ position.
Marshall’s defensive backfield is a mix of old and new as veterans Steven Gilmore and Micah Abraham may be among the top cornerbacks in the Sun Belt Conference. They’re joined as starters by McNeese State transfer Andre Sam and Austin Peay transfer Isaiah Norman. Another talented transfer, Florida State’s Jadarius Green-McKnight will see plenty of action at safety, and two other MU veterans are listed as reserves — Joshua Bowers and EJ Jackson.
True freshman Rece Verhoff won the placekicking job in fall practice and Morgantown’s John McConnell will be the Herd’s punter and hold on placements.
Veteran Zach Appio is back as Marshall’s long snapper.
Talik Keaton will again handling the Herd’s punt and kick returns.