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Herd continues being heard

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Nov 20, 2020

Marshall University's Coach John "Doc" Holliday stands in Joan Edwards Stadium. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The stands at Marshall’s Joan Edwards Stadium are only partially filled when the Thundering Herd takes on another Conference USA rival. But the hullabaloo being created by those avid spectators might be heard over in Putnam County where Coach John “Doc” Holliday was born in Hurricane.

Marshall is kicking up its heels and making more than just a cloud of dust here in the disjointed 2020 football season.

After drilling Middle Tennessee, 42-14, last Saturday, Marshall is 7-0 and has just three regular seasons to navigate. Left for Holliday and his all-winning crew are home dates against Charlotte and Rice and the likely regular season finale at Florida International in Miami. None of those three teams has a winning record.

The Herd was ranked 16th in the Nov. 8 Coaches Poll and probably won’t fall any this week.

Holliday has an interesting, if twisting, coaching story. His reputation came as a frenetic recruiter, who knew the cane breaks and truck farms in central and south Florida better than anyone. He has spent two stints at WVU after playing linebacker and getting two degrees for Coach Don Nehlen in Morgantown. The winding coaching trail has taken him to North Carolina State and Florida as well.

Now in his 11th season as Marshall’s head coach, Holliday is 63 and enjoying the fruits of his much-traveled labor.

Last Saturday, Marshall wore all-black uniforms in remembrance of the 50 years since the school lost 75 souls to a horrible plane crash in 1970.

The giant buffalo (or bison) mascot wore a large, green mask on the electric Marshall sideline.

Marshall’s cream-to-the-top rise has been propelled by a solid seasonal performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells, offensive standouts Brenden Knox, Corey Grammage, Xavier Gaines and Willie Johnson and spotlighted defensive contributors Tavante Beckett and Steven Gilmore.

Wells played for George Washington High School in Charleston, but many of the starters hail from the state of Florida.

Early-season victories over Appalachian State and Florida Atlantic have the Herd riding high atop the Conference USA standings. And an unbeaten regular season could provide the bowl-hungry fans with some place more savory than the Bahamas Bowl, New Orleans Bowl, Independence Bowl or Hawaii Bowl.

Schools without so-called Power 5 affiliations that could keep Marshall in one of the usual Conference USA bowls are unbeaten Cincinnati (ranked seventh) and unbeaten Coastal Carolina (ranked 15th). With the Mid-American Conference just getting underway, that league still has Buffalo, Kent State, Western Michigan and Central Michigan as unbeatens.

Marshall will be double-digit favorites in all three of its remaining games against the teams with losing records.

Joan C. Edwards can’t be rattled with cheers and noise as much as usual because of the limited audiences, but interest in the Herd is on the rise anyway.

John “Doc” Holliday. Unbeaten at 7-0. The Thundering Herd is on the march — and in more than just far western West Virginia.