HUNTINGTON - The sun rose over the east stands of Joan C. Edwards Stadium and Marshall football operations man Mark Gale remembered the days when such a 6 a.m. football practice was standard fare.
"Now we have the FieldTurf," he said. "But we used to have the old AstroTurf and it would have frost on it. We had to knock the frost off the ol' pumpkin."
"I woke them up at 4:30, 4:15 a.m., I think," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "It's good. I told them this morning, with good teams, it doesn't matter what time or where you go, you just show up and go to work."
The reason for the early practice was to accommodate freshman orientation, but Holliday had a couple last season and liked it.
The question now is, how well does he like this edition of the Thundering Herd?
"We still have a long way to go," he said. "We have a lot of preparation [for the Sept. 1 West Virginia game], but time to get it done between now and next Saturday. We just have to come out and get better."
Pieces are starting to fall into place. Holliday has a solid quarterback in Rakeem Cato, the clear No. 1. He has some nice skill players like South Charleston's own Aaron Dobson, and now he has his almost all-transfer defensive backfield.
"Seventy-five percent, anyway," said Penn State transfer and starting cornerback Derrick Thomas.
It's an interesting dynamic. Thomas, a junior, has locked down one cornerback spot. Boston College transfers Dominick LeGrande, a 6-foot-2, 213-pound senior, and Okechukwu Okoroha, a 6-1, 210-pound senior, have locked down the safety positions. The only non-transfer expected to start in the secondary is 5-11, 190-pound sophomore Keith Baxter at the other corner.
Call it the Marshall melting pot.
"They're feeling their way a little bit," Holliday said. "But we have some guys that are talented. I think we're athletic back there, more so than we have been. Those guys just have to continue to improve and get better."
"They have great speed and size," Cato said. "They give me a great look every day. With their size and speed and experience from Penn State and the ACC, they give me a good look every day."
Thomas knew about MU from his uncle, Brian Greenleaf, who lettered as a Thundering Herd receiver in 1999. When Holliday made contact through a friend of Thomas, there was comfort.
"I shut everybody else down," said the corner. "Since, everything has been good. I've been enjoying myself and enjoying my time. All the players have made me feel at home. Now we're trying to get our chemistry with the defense."