HUNTINGTON — For Marshall center Levi Brown and cornerback Chris Jackson, the 2016 season seems like an eternity ago.
Both were freshmen that season, taking part in their first year with the Thundering Herd. Suffice to say, it didn’t go according to plan.
Marshall entered the season with high hopes, but a myriad of issues led to a 3-9 campaign that left those within the program reeling.
That was a feeling that neither ever wanted to experience again.
“We weren’t necessarily on a downslide or anything, but that just happened to be a terrible year,” Brown said. “To come from a terrible season like that as freshmen and then have a huge year to end it, that’s something I’m hoping we’re able to put together. It would be awesome to take this thing from one of the worst seasons we’ve had here to one of the best with a conference championship.”
Brown said talent level was not the issue with that 2016 season. Instead, it was a strong reminder how important the values that head coach Doc Holliday instills really are to achieving success.
Brown pointed out things that Holliday has echoed since taking the job — complacency, togetherness, leadership — as many of the controllable issues that the Herd failed to take care of in that season, one that came to a thudding close in a 60-6 loss to rival Western Kentucky at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Brown and Jackson were established as potential future leaders by taking the field as freshmen during that season. Those lumps taken are now lessons they are hoping to pass on to the younger players on the team.
Jackson expounded upon those lessons and how the mindset is different as each season has progressed.
“It starts before the season with thinking about that stuff,” Jackson said. “You can’t just turn it on once practice starts. Every time you come work out, you think, ‘Well, if you don’t do these reps, then the team that’s right on your heels can pass you by.’ That’s how we look at it with workouts, practice and every game.”
Jackson added that those one or two repetitions in the weight room represent plays in a game. Players don’t want to take plays off.
“Every game, there’s going to be one or two plays that determine the game,” Jackson said. “You have to make sure you are the one making that play before the other team.”
In addition to the mindset change, Brown added that the culture has changed. Players are closer and working together to ensure that trust level is there.
When trust level is not there among teammates, players tend to try to do too much themselves, which can lead to individualistic mentalities — a problem noted with the 2016 season.
“As a team, we’ve come together and started doing things extra that were more geared toward cohesion,” Brown said. “The strength guys cook for us, we all hang out together. Those things seem little, but they are really big.”
Holliday reiterated the importance for senior leadership following Friday’s practice. He added that he likes what he’s seen so far from that group of older players, which includes guys like Milan Lanier, Joey Maddox and Tyler Brown, who are all rising into bigger roles as they start their final seasons.
“You’ve heard me say many times, any time those seniors play their best and we can get every senior we have playing their best football, we have a chance to have a great year,” Holliday said. “That’s what we’re trying to get done here.”