CHAPMANVILLE — September 6 has been circled on the calendar for quite a long time by Marshall University football fans.
That’s when Marshall is schedule to open the season at home against Purdue of the Big Ten Conference at Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The game has a 3 p.m. kickoff time and will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1. It will be the first time a Big Ten team has ever come to Huntington to take on the Thundering Herd in football.
The Purdue game and the upcoming football season were some of the main themes last week during the annual Marshall Big Green Coaches Caravan which made a stop at the Logan Country Club in Chapmanville.
Speaking at the event was Marshall football coach Doc Holliday, who, in recent years has led the Herd to resurgence on the gridiron.
Last year, Marshall had one of its most successful seasons in recent memory as the Herd went 13-1, beating Louisiana Tech 26-23 in the Conference USA championship game, and then heading south to Boca Raton, Fla., where Marshall crushed Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois 52-23 in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.
Marshall’s only defeat was a 67-66 overtime setback at home to Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers went on to hold on to beat Central Michigan 49-48 on Christmas Eve in the first-ever Bahamas Bowl, staving off a last-second, hail mary, three-lateral touchdown by the Chippewas, which outscored WKU 34-0 in the fourth quarter.
Marshall and Western Kentucky are set to meet in this year’s season finale on Nov. 27 at Bowling Green, Ky.
Other than Purdue, Marshall’s other non-conference games this season are road games at the MAC’s Ohio and Kent State and a home game on Sept. 19 against FCS Norfolk State.
Marshall’s Conference USA opener is Oct. 3 at home against Old Dominion. Charlotte, a new program, enters the league this fall and the Herd are set to play the 49ers on Oct. 31 on the road.
Holliday spoke about the upcoming season during the LCC banquet and also some of his family’s roots in southern West Virginia.
“It’s great to be back here in Logan. I have a soft spot for this area. My brother and some of his relatives grew up in Omar and they worked in the mines. I worked in the mines at Sharples,” Holliday said. “I understand the area and have a deep respect for the people in the area.”
Holliday talked about his hiring, the new indoor practice facility and the vision for the future of the football program.
“A lot goes into winning a championship and it starts off at the top,” Holliday said. “We have a $42 million practice facility. It’s not only the best in the state of West Virginia it is the best one in the country. We did that, thanks to the vision campaign and thanks to you guys, Mike Hamrick and Dr. Kopp.”
Holliday said Marshall’s indoor practice building is already paying off.
“The reason we played so well in the bowl game is because for every practice in preparation for the game we were able to go inside and do what it takes to prepare for a game like that,” he said. “We walked in there for practice and we had Herm Edwards, Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, Bryon Leftwich and all of the great players and they said there’s not hardly a facility like this in the NFL. We had a pro day there and a lot of those NFL guys were there and they couldn’t believe it. Kids buy with their eyes. Now we can bring the kids on campus and show them the nicest indoor facility in America.
“We also have a nice academic center and no one has any nicer an academic facility like we do. We moved into there last Friday and it’s unbelievable. Our football players graduate at 93 percent.”
Marshall will have to replace record-breaking quarterback Rakeem Cato, who is now playing pro ball with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. Cato passed for 3,903 yards with 40 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the 2014 season. For his career, Cato had 14,079 passing yards and 131 TDs.
“You don’t appreciate what Cato has done until he’s gone,” Holliday said. “He broke just about every record Chad and Byron had. He’s in Montreal. I talked to him a few days ago and he’s doing extremely well.”
Holliday said he expects the Herd to have another fine season.
“I expect to be great this year, I do,” he said. “What will keep us from being great is if we have forgot what got us to where we are. We have to work hard, come to work every day and become a better team. Complacency cannot take root in any shape or form. That’s my biggest fear as the football coach. We have a job to do and I want to make sure that we do it.”
Marshall returns running backs Devin Johnson and Remi Watson and several others. Michael Birdsong, a junior from Matoaca, Va., is the likely starter at QB in place of Cato.
“We have some good skilled position players,” Holliday said. “Birdsong is looking good at quarterback. He’s extremely tough and the kids have great respect for him. Defensively, we have to play good defense. You can never win a championship unless you can play good defense. We started playing better defense a year ago. The two teams that played in the conference championship game, us and Louisiana Tech, we were number one in the conference in defense and they were number two. In the end, our defense found a way to win that game. In our secondary, we’ve got just about everyone back.”
Holliday said Marshall’s special teams are also looking good from the punter, kicker, kick returners and the deep snapper, who are all back.
“I like our team,” he said. “Every kid is there and in summer school. I’m excited and we’re excited about the Purdue game. That’s going to give our program a chance to be seen on the national stage. It will be the only game on TV at that time at 3 o’clock and we want to show everyone what Marshall football is all about. I expect to sell the stadium out.”
Sept. 6: Purdue, 3 p.m.
Sept. 12: at Ohio, TBA
Sept. 19: Norfolk State, TBA
Sept. 26: at Kent State, TBA
Oct. 3: Old Dominion, TBA
Oct. 9: Southern Miss, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17: at Florida Atlantic, TBA
Oct. 24: North Texas, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 31: at Charlotte, TBA
Nov. 7: at Middle Tennessee, TBA
Nov. 14: Florida International, TBA
Nov. 27: at Western Kentucky, noon