I am on memory lane every time I see a college football commercial promoting the upcoming season. I would love to put the pads on and play with the guys, “The Young Thundering Herd” who committed their minds, bodies and souls to the foundation of the Marshall University football program just one more time. Back then, it was almost Mission Impossible to get multiple wins. Our team took on the emotionally staggering task of reestablishing football at the school. The task was not so much to win championships but simply to play competitively and position the program for future success.
Like it was just yesterday, I remember when our coaches were getting us ready for the home opener with Morehead State University. Morehead State was out of the neighboring State of Kentucky.
After coach Lengyel gave an emotional speech, we were fired up. I could have run through hell with gasoline draws on. The crowd was cheering loudly, and I couldn’t wait to get my first hit. All those hard summer workouts had prepared me for this season opener. We won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball first. Reggie started the game with several good plays. Our drive stalled, and we punted. Coach Riley, defensive coordinator yelled, “Defense, go hit somebody!” I ran onto the field with every piece of padding the equipment manager had because I wanted to look bigger. This was the shining moment that I’d been waiting for, a dream fulfilled.
If I hadn’t injured my shoulder during the fourth quarter, my dream would have been more storybook, but my shoulder got banged up. Actually, my deltoid was already torn before I entered summer camp. However, I didn’t want to disclose my injury to the coaching staff because I wanted to play. Dr. Craythorn confirmed I’d damaged my deltoid again. I was fearful that I’d lose my starting position. I remembered almost losing an opportunity to play at Steubenville High School because of an injury. I had made my mind up that the only way I was coming off the field was on a stretcher. Incidentally, we won that very competitive game.
After Marshall Football weathered lean years, we ascended to elite status in Division I-AA, winning national championships in 1992 and 1996 along with eight conference titles. In 1997, the Thundering Herd returned to Division I-A, college football highest classification. A member of the Mid-American Conference, we made eight bowl appearances from 1997 to 2009, winning six of the games. During the 1990s, Marshall won 114 games and lost 25. Marshall proudly holds the distinction of being the winningest football program throughout the ‘90s over the perennial powerhouse, Florida State. We accomplished our mission.
So, every year during this time of the year, I will keep reliving this shining moment until my last breath.