HUNTINGTON — The first day in pads is a day that is unofficially circled each year during Marshall football’s preseason camp.
Marshall center Levi Brown said there was plenty of excitement built up for the Herd contingent as they took to Joan C. Edwards Stadium on a fall-like August afternoon.
“It’s literally Christmas Day,” Brown said. “Second to the first day of camp, this is the most anticipated day that players look forward to. Everyone is just tired of going around and going through the early motions. They are ready to just hit somebody.”
That final aspect is why Marshall starts each first day in full pads of fall and spring with the “Herd Drill” — a drill that allows players to get some of the adrenaline and juice out of their system while allowing coaches to see the physicality of some players, which can’t totally be seen in helmets or in shells.
“We had some physical things happen with some one-on-ones that we call competitive excellence drills in which you have a winner and a loser,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.
Brown said that, just as the players are excited to take part in the drills, the coaches are also amped up for that initial full-contact session.
“The coaches are just as excited as we are,” Brown said. “They act like they aren’t, but they love it as much as we do — to see guys run around and make plays that haven’t done it before or have been doing it in shorts. It’s really a huge day that everyone looks forward to because we take that biggest step toward Aug. 31.”
That Aug. 31 date is Marshall’s season opener when the Herd hosts VMI at 6:30 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium to kick off the 2019 season.
While there are still plenty of practices prior to that, Wednesday’s session took on a game-type feel prior to the start of practice with offensive and defensive players chirping about who was going to get the best of who, which shows a competitive spirit that Holliday has said he likes about his 2019 team.
“With expectations the way they are, we better have this juice every practice,” Holliday said. “We can’t walk off here any day without being a better football team. The good thing is that there is competition, so if a guy doesn’t come out ready to compete, he’s going to get beat out.”
For Brown, Wednesday was the last first day in full pads, which he said was a day that he would remember as he starts the final year of his Marshall career.
However, for guys such as fellow offensive lineman Alex Mollette, it signified the first full repetitions in a new year, which for Mollette is a bit of a new beginning.
Last year, Mollette tore his ACL in September and was lost for the season. After having been cleared over the summer, Wednesday was Mollette’s first time back in full pads since that injury, which brought about excitement and anxiety all in one three-hour session.
“I’ll openly admit I had butterflies just thinking about it,” Mollette said. “I was like, ‘Oh man, here it comes!’ Once I got out there, though, it all slowed down and it was fine. It felt good and I felt like I did before the injury. I felt normal.”
While the first few days were at a slower pace as scheme installation started on both sides of the ball, full pads meant the training wheels were coming off for the newer players, which allowed coaches to get a look at the players in game situations to see who made a strong transition.
One player who seemed to catch another gear as the pads came on was no stranger to doing so in game situations — running back Tyler King.
King, who suffered an injury in the Florida Atlantic game and did not see action the rest of the season, broke through a hole during the team portion, using his speed to get past the second level and into the secondary. King later took a handoff, reversed field and made a sharp cut back through the middle for another big gain.
While King showed the offense’s playmaking ability, the Marshall defensive line — which has plenty of competition for starting spots — consistently got into the backfield as well.
All were positives in Holliday’s eyes.
“I thought they competed well, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Holliday said.