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Marshall football a program with long history

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Marshall University brings a sad, but proud history to Saturday’s matchup with Connecticut in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Several NFL stars played for the Thundering Herd, but the school is also known for those who lost their lives in a horrific plane crash that wiped out the team more than a generation ago.

Among those was Chad Pennington, who quarterbacked the Herd from 1995 to 1999. In his four years as a starter, Marshall won 47 games and lost only seven. They went 13-0 his senior season, including a 21-3 victory over BYU in the Motor City Bowl.

One of the most gifted wide receivers to play anywhere was Randy Moss. Playing just two seasons at Marshall, Moss caught an incredible 53 touchdowns. Even those playing four years have not been able to duplicate that feat. He stands second only to Jerry Rice (197) with 156 NFL touchdown catches.

Byron Leftwich threw for 11,903 yards and 89 touchdowns from 1997-2002. He also earned a reputation of playing with heart. One of college football’s greatest memories was Leftwich playing on a broken leg sustained earlier in the game, then having his offensive lineman carry him down the field to take the next snap after completions. He played in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars among others.

Despite playing only three seasons (2004-2006), Ahmad Bradshaw stands fifth in rushing yards for the Thundering Herd. He ran for 1,523 yards and 19 touchdowns his junior season. Bradshaw won 2 Super Bowl rings with the New York Giants.

These are just some of the players who are part of the Marshall legacy. They are the descendants of those who re-started the program from scratch in 1971.

On November 14, 1970 the team, coaches, administrators and boosters were returning from a game at East Carolina, when their plane crashed just a few miles from home. Along with the tragedy was the realization the program would be starting from scratch.

That meant walk-ons, transfers and freshmen, who were ineligible in those days. The man entrusted to re-form the Herd was Jack Lengyel, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall.”

Lengyel would have greater success as an administrator at several major colleges, but he was the right man for the job at the right time, his 9-33 record over four years notwithstanding.

It was the middle of the next decade before Marshall began to enjoy the success of winning seasons. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ assistant George Chaump put together a 33-16 record in four seasons there.

Chaump was succeeded by Jim Donnan, who coached Marshall to the 1992 1-AA (FCS) championship. They also went deep into the playoffs in multiple seasons. Donnan’s successor, Bob Pruett, won the 1996 championship.

Current Coach “Doc” Holliday has put up a 40-25 record since he came to the Huntington, West Virginia, school in 2010.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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