Seniors reflect on years with the Herd
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s 18 senior football players will jog out of the Joan C. Edwards Stadium tunnel for the final time Saturday when the Thundering Herd plays UTSA on Senior Day.
All the memories of the last four or five years will flood their minds, sending them into a nostalgic state.
Some of the funniest memories mentioned this week involved thoughts from when it all began — their first time setting foot on the stadium turf.
For Marshall linebacker Frankie Hernandez, there are still the constant reminders of those early days. Hernandez has the dull pain to prove it after being unceremoniously acclimated to college football during his first practice.
“Oh man, my first day,” Hernandez said. “I broke my toe at my first practice. It was the worst. My toe still hurts from that day. I broke my toe tackling (former running back) Tony Pittman.”
Hernandez said he had to suck it up and play through it.
“I was fighting that every day, and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if this is for me,’ ” Hernandez said. “For real, it was tough, but it got better.”
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday spoke about Hernandez and his growth especially, which shined through in last week’s 11-tackle performance against Charlotte.
“I told Frankie Hernandez that if I was a betting man, when he walked in here, I thought I would never see him as a senior, but here he is,” Holliday said. “That is what’s great about coaching. You see guys come in and walk out of here with a college degree, turned into grown men.”
Marshall offensive lineman Jordan Dowrey gave a strong reflection as he looks back as a senior on his transition from high school to college and the subsequent ascent up the depth chart.
“I was in over my head,” Dowrey said with a laugh. “That was the biggest thing. You go out and you start hitting people and it’s like, ‘This hurts. These are big guys — everybody.’ There would be games in high school in which you knew you were playing a guy getting recruited and you knew you had to bring it on that play because you were going to hit him. Well, that’s every play (in college). When that’s the kind of atmosphere you are playing in, it made me a better player fast.”
Marshall defensive tackle Ryan Bee laughed when thinking about his first taste of college life, which involved going up against one of the Herd’s strongest offensive lines in recent memory — an offensive front that helped carry the Herd to a Conference USA title in 2014.
“The first camp I was here, to be quite frank, I didn’t want to be here,” Bee said. “There were a lot of calls home to Mom and I was like, ‘Man, I just don’t know if this is for me.’ It was a big change from back home, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. Looking back now, I’m thankful for this team and all these fans. They accepted me and took me in. It’s going to suck leaving here.”
Bee said the experience and subsequent growth after battling through it is what aids the seniors in connecting with younger players, which helps to continue the culture of a successful program.
“That’s the biggest thing I tell the young guys now — trust the process,” Bee said. “I was in their shoes. I was — not miserable — but I had a hard time my first year here. I trusted the process and I’m thankful for it.”
Fifth-year seniors were in their redshirt year in 2014 when the Herd won a C-USA championship. Two years later, their resolve was tested when the Herd went through a 3-9 season. Those players, sophomores at the time, made a pact as they went into their junior year and were committed to restoring Marshall to its history of success.
After an eight-win campaign in 2017, the Herd (6-3, 4-2 C-USA) is again looking to finish strong, now being bowl eligible and end the regular season with a pair of wins to get back to eight before a bowl game. UTSA (3-7, 2-4) is at Marshall for a 2:30 p.m. Saturday game.
When Holliday greets the seniors at midfield in the pregame festivities Saturday, it will be a unique feeling because of the journey they’ve been on together, which Holliday said will end with a college degree for all 18.
“That is what life is all about, and these 18 have done that,” Holliday said. “They have ups and downs and some great moments with some not-so-great moments, but in the end, they stuck it out. They overcame all the adversity they have faced and are now walking out of here with a college degree.”
UTSA (3-7, 2-4) at MARSHALL (6-3, 4-2)
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington
TV: Stadium on Facebook
Radio: WDGG 93.7-FM, ESPN 94.1-FM and 930-AM, WMUL 88.1-FM