— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall’s first season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference begins Saturday against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference member Norfolk State.
Game time is 3:30 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and the game will be shown on ESPN3.
The Herd and Spartans are meeting for the second time, as Marshall defeated NSU in Huntington 45-7 in September of 2015.
Marshall hopes to continue its recent run of success in season openers with the Herd having won nine straight.
A year ago, in Charles Huff’s first season as head coach, the Herd finished with a 7-6 record, including 5-3 in its final Conference USA season. The Herd lost 36-21 loss to Sun Belt member Louisiana in the R and L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.
The game has some added luster for Huff, who is an alumnus of Hampton University, a Norfolk State rival.
Norfolk State finished 6-5 2021, the first season for current Spartans’ head coach Dawson Odums. NSU was 2-3 in MEAC play.
Marshall was picked by Sun Belt Conference coaches to finish fourth in the league’s East Division behind Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. Norfolk State was picked by MEAC coaches and Sports Information Directors to finish third behind South Carolina State and North Carolina Central.
After this week’s game, Marshall will get ready for a much-anticipated trip to South Bend, Indiana to face Notre Dame. The September 10 matchup begins at 2:30 p.m. and will be carried nationally on NBC.
Norfolk State faces a second-straight Sun Belt Conference team next week as it travels to Harrisonburg, Va. to take on James Madison.
Here are three things to look for in Saturday’s game:
MEET HENRY COLOMBI: Marshall fans are anxious to see their new starting quarterback in action after Colombi transferred from Texas Tech.
Colombi, who is at his third school, won a competitive battle for the starting job with Cam Fancher, the only signal caller in camp with game experience at MU last year.
Colombi started five games for the Red Raiders last year, completing 96-of-149 passes for 1,291 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed 36 times for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
In his stops at both Texas Tech and Utah State, Colombi has thrown for 2,816 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. How he meshes with MU’s talented receivers will be crucial.
Colombi’s comfort in scrambling will be crucial as he works behind an offensive featuring multiple new starters.
KHALAN LABORN’S TIME TO SHINE: With the recent announcement that Marshall preseason all-conference running back Rasheen Ali wouldn’t be available for early-season games, the attention turned to sixth-year senior Khalan Laborn, a Florida State transfer with plenty of past honors. Laborn was a five-star recruit for the Seminoles in 2017 and both Rivals.com and 247 Sports rated him that year as the nation’s top all-purpose back.
His work at FSU was limited to 297 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. Laborn now has a chance to show that the hype is justified as he could be Marshall’s featured back for much, if not all, of September.
The contributions of Poca’s Ethan Payne will also be crucial as the sophomore is Laborn’s backup. Payne got experience as a freshman last year late in wins as he played in 11 games, ran 20 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns and caught four balls for 14 yards.
DON’T GIVE THEM HOPE: Norfolk State is a proud HBCU institute and carries the MEAC’s banner into two opportunities for eye-opening wins this week at Marshall and next week at James Madison. These opportunities against FBS opponents are rare for teams like the Spartans and you can be assured coach Dawson Odums will have his squad prepared to take a good shot at the Thundering Herd. T
There are players on the NSU roster who are capable of giving Marshall fits, including running back JJ Davis, the MEAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. The Spartans had seven preseason all-league picks, with wide receiver Da’Quan Felton joining Davis as an offensive playmaker and plenty of quality defensively.
Huff has warned his Marshall team all week about two possible issues — overconfidence and looking ahead to next week’s game at Notre Dame. Early scores and strong performances by Marshall could be quick solutions to those issues.
Hall of Fame Weekend
Marshall Athletics inducts 11 new members into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend, with a banquet Friday night and their introduction prior to Saturday’s game. The class is highlighted by New York Jets Defensive Lineman Vinny Curry, who played at Marshall from 2008-2011 and Coach Jack Lengyel, who led Marshall football for four seasons (1971-1974) following the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 Marshall football players, coaches administrators and fans. Others being honored this weekend are Travis Young (Men’s Basketball 1997-2001), Steve Sciullo (Football 1999-2002), Stephanie Cook-Lewis (Softball/Soccer 1995-1998), Sarah Crandall-Fletcher (Cross Country/Track 1990-1994), Carrie Hinkle (Softball 1994-1997), Jody Lambert (Women’s Basketball/Volleyball 1970-1973), Bill Noe (Swimming 1982-1986), Kim Nutter (Cross Country/Track 1979-1982) and Dave Tabor (Cross Country/Track 1983-1986).