HUNTINGTON — There’s been a word circulating through the Marshall football team, one that was there before the first whistle blew Monday morning for the beginning of preseason camp - believe.
“We want to make people believe,” senior cornerback Derrick Thomas said. “We want to give people something they can really believe in. They’ve been hungry for a championship around here for a long time.”
The work began with a pair of split-squad practices at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mostly younger players populated the morning session, while the starters and veterans were the lion’s share of players working in the afternoon.
Thomas didn’t want to use the word “championship” too much. The Thundering Herd didn’t even reach the postseason in 2012, ending the season at 5-7. But with a slew of players returning — many of them starters on an offense that led Conference USA and was among the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision — fourth-year Coach Doc Holliday knows others from the outside consider the Herd a contender for the C-USA crown.
“Expectations for this football team are extremely high,” Holliday said. “I’ve told them that’s good. That’s a positive for us. On the other hand, it means absolutely nothing.
“We have to come out here every day as a football team and walk off here better individually and as a better team,” he added. “Then we’ve got the chance to come close to those expectations.”
Part of reaching those expectations, the players said, was putting the struggles of last season firmly in the past. There wasn’t a reason to dwell on the negatives of a losing season — the close losses and the struggles to stop opposing offenses. Thomas said the players no longer talk much about last year. Quarterback Rakeem Cato said that when Holliday addressed last season in Sunday night’s team meeting, it was the last time he’d discuss it.
For Cato, the reigning C-USA MVP and member of several award watch lists, what the team needs to address now is how it can make aspirations become reality. He said that will get taken care of on the practice field.
“I told them - wideouts, O-line, running backs, everybody - it’s time to work now,” Cato said. “Put everything we’re doing to the side and it’s strictly football. It’s time to separate the boys from the men.”
* Holliday had mentioned some possible surprise additions to the roster when practice began, and several showed up at Monday’s practices, including University of Miami transfer Ricardo Williams.
Williams, a 6-foot-5, 251-pound defensive end, played one game for the Hurricanes in 2012 and was officially off the roster in May. He was Homestead High’s all-time sack leader and a three-star recruit according to Rivals and ESPN. Williams will sit out the year as a transfer and have two years to play.
“We’ve been talking with him for a long time,” Holliday said. “Probably about two weeks ago, he made the decision that this is where he wanted to be.”
Also in the morning session were receiver Rodney Allen, linebacker Raheim Huskey and defensive lineman Jalen Stevenson, all freshmen. Stevenson, at 6-2 and 225 pounds, is a record-breaker himself, earning Lakeland High’s single season sack mark with 25 as a junior. Allen, a 5-10, 154-pounder, caught 36 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns as a senior. The three were headed to junior colleges, but decided instead to come to Marshall.
Holliday wasn’t ready to say whether the three would be available for the season or have to sit out as academic non-qualifiers.
“We’ll see,” Holliday said. “That all takes care of itself. We’ll see how it goes and we’ll see when school starts how that all shakes out.”
Also of note is former University of Charleston receiver Cody Carter, a 5-9, 173-pound sophomore from Barboursville who walked on this season, and Marshall baseball signee Spencer Iacavone, a 6-2, 215-pounder who will play quarterback.
* Several members of the 2013 recruiting class were not on the field Monday, most of them likely academic non-qualfiers. That group includes running backs Brandon Byrd and Tony Pittman, receivers Angelo Jean-Louis and Deontay McManus and defensive backs Shykeem Pitts and De’Andre “Chocolate” Wilson.
Offensive lineman Gerald Wright will attend prep school this fall and enroll in January. Linebacker Jeremiah Benjamin will not attend Marshall.
* Defensive end Jeremiah Taylor joined the Herd’s watch-list parade Monday. The 6-4, 255-pound senior was named to the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive end. Taylor, a captain last season, recorded 54 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, with a team-high 5.5 sacks. He is one of 22 ends on the watch list.
* Reserve sophomore receiver Jack Gammon left the morning session with a left arm injury and watched the afternoon session wearing a brace and a sling on that arm. Holliday said Gammon could be out a couple of weeks.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.