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STEVGIL

Marshall defensive back Steven Gilmore brings down Western Kentucky’s Lucky Jackson after a catch during a 2019 game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall cornerback Steven Gilmore may not be the biggest secondary player the Thundering Herd football team has, but his play seems to dwarf others when he’s on the field.

As Marshall starts Conference USA action with a rivalry matchup at Western Kentucky on Saturday evening, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday wants his top playmakers to step up toward a Herd victory.

At the forefront of those players is Gilmore, whom Holliday praised for his abilities in important situations. For that reason, Holliday and Marshall’s team made Gilmore a captain for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

When Holliday spoke of Gilmore’s elected captaincy for this week’s game, he didn’t mince words.

“If I’ve got to have one guy make a play to go win the game, it seems like that’s him,” Holliday said.

Especially in today’s college football, defensive back is one of the most difficult positions to play because of the fine details of technique and rules which seem set up against defenders in pass coverage.

As former Marshall cornerback Chris Jackson used to say, it gets “lonely on the island” when out there, but Gilmore has made himself at home, just as Jackson used to do before moving on to a career with the Tennessee Titans.

Holliday pointed out, too, that the bigger the game, the more comfortable Gilmore seems, which brought about comparisons to his brother, Stephon Gilmore — the NFL’s top defensive player in 2019.

“He’s a little bit like his brother, I guess,” Holliday said. “He just finds a way to make plays. You put him on an island all the time.”

Holliday pointed to Marshall’s 17-7 win over then-No. 23 Appalachian State as an example of how Gilmore’s gamesmanship comes to the forefront. As App State looked to score just before halftime, Gilmore was called for a pair of interference penalties that helped continue the drive for the Mountaineers.

However, Gilmore atoned for those calls by stepping in front of a pass in the red zone for an interception that kept the lead with the Herd at the break.

“As you saw against App, he had a couple calls that maybe not have gone his way, but he just keeps fighting,” Holliday said. “He just keeps playing and he keeps finding a way to make a play at the end of the day.”

Prior to the season, Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert pointed to Gilmore as one of the players who had made the biggest leap coming into 2020. Gilmore has responded by leading the Herd with four passes defended (three pass breakups, one interception) in two games. This weekend, Gilmore is expected to again be a needed force for the Herd defense.

With Western Kentucky quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome demanding attention as a dual threat, the likelihood is that Marshall has a defender shadowing him to keep him from taking off and running. That means there will be more island time for Gilmore in one-on-one battles against the Western Kentucky receivers.

Last week, Pigrome looked to take more deep shots early against Middle Tennessee to open up the intermediate passing game, so Gilmore is likely to have a chance to make an impact early in this one.

Holliday pointed out that Gilmore has shown his best in those spots, referencing the interception against App State this year and last year’s game-clinching interception in a 36-31 road win over eventual Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic.

With the last three games in the Marshall-Western Kentucky series being decided by seven points or less, Holliday is confident should that scenario arise again where the ball comes Gilmore’s way.

“Like I said, if you want to pick a guy and put him in a situation to win a game for you at the end, he’s sure one of the guys that would be in consideration,” Holliday said.