Marshall coach knows WVU well
If anyone should know key members of this year's West Virginia football team, it's Marshall third-year coach Doc Holliday.
Holliday was the recruiting director when the Mountaineers' 2009 freshman class was ranked No. 22 in the nation by Scout.com. The group included quarterback Geno Smith, wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, running back Shawne Alston, tackle Pat Eger, defensive tackle Will Clarke, linebackers Tyler Anderson and Terrence Garvin, cornerbacks Brodrick Jenkins and Pat Miller, and safety Darwin Cook.
Those players will be in the starting lineup against Holliday's Thundering Herd in Saturday's noon opener at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Smith, Austin and Bailey have formed one of the top pass-catch combinations in college football, while Smith is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
“We've got great respect for that program,” said Holliday, an assistant for 23 years at WVU who also played for the Mountaineers. “The one thing I learned from the time I spent there, you've got really good players and they're well coached.
“They're one of the top 10 teams in America. They've got Geno Smith at quarterback, who was picked to be the (offensive) player of the year in the Big 12. Probably if he wasn't picked, Tavon Austin would have been.”
Smith speaks fondly of Holliday, whose coaching staff is preparing a game plan to stop him.
When Smith was trying to choose between West Virginia and Alabama, whom he visited, and other schools such as LSU, Michigan, Clemson and Boston College, who also made him scholarship offers, he acknowledged Holliday's persistence as a recruiter pushed him toward the Mountaineers.
“Doc is a really good guy. I look forward to playing against him,” said Smith, who starred at Miramar High in suburban Miami. “I know his family. He knows the type of person I am. He was a persistent guy. That was the reason why I came here. He would show up to my practices and come to my house and meet my family. That's something a lot of recruiters didn't do. That's what makes him such a great recruiter.”
Holliday is 12-13 in his first two seasons at Marshall, including a 7-6 record against the 16th-most difficult schedule in the country last year. Holliday is 0-2 against WVU.
“We understand the challenges Marshall is going to bring to the table,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They're going to be a very motivated football team that is going to want to come up here and play well. Highly motivated teams are dangerous.
“They won some close games last year, like we did, and won their bowl game, which is always positive in the offseason from a momentum standpoint. We expect them to be a better team than they were last year.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.