MU football: Dobson confident about season
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- If the Marshall University football team wanted to hold a seniors-only meeting, it wouldn't need a very large room.
Try one of the seniors' kitchens.
The Thundering Herd has eight seniors on their roster heading into today's first practice of the season. That's second fewest nationally behind Indiana's seven. And if it weren't for Boston College safety transfers Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, the Herd would top the list.
None of that worries two of those returning seniors, wide receiver Aaron Dobson and linebacker Devin Arrington. As they sat signing posters Friday at the Department of Environmental Protection in Kanawha City, the excitement in their voices was palpable, like they were ready to strap on helmets and pads and kick off the season early.
"I feel like this is our year," said Dobson, a former South Charleston High standout. "I really feel that way. We have some talent on this team, so we just have to go out there and perform."
The seniors' numbers may be small, but they say they're ready to shoulder a greater share of leadership responsibilities. And they can't wait to see the progress their younger teammates have made, progress they started to see at last season's end.
Of Marshall's six returning seniors, three are wide receivers - Dobson, Andre Booker and Antavious Wilson. That's very good news for sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, who was thrown into the fire for nine starts as a true freshman and responded with 2,059 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and a Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl victory.
As Cato continues to mature as a passer, that trio of experienced wideouts -players who know where to be and what to do - will be essential.
"That's good for Cato, because he can trust us," Dobson said. "We've all played four years. Cato knows we've got the experience to know what we've got to do. He can trust us and know we're going to be in the right spot. I think that will help him tremendously.
"And in the receivers room, it helps us because the young receivers can look to us and see what we're doing, ask us what they need to do and ask us to help with anything. That's big for our offense."
Before LeGrande and Okoroha showed up, life as a defensive senior was a lonely one for Arrington. He was it.
Arrington expects the two transfers to acclimate quickly, and he thinks juniors like defensive ends Jeremiah Taylor and Alex Bazzie to step into leadership roles as well. Arrington will feel a little more comfortable as well. LeGrande and Okoroha's arrival meant the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Arrington could return to linebacker from safety, where he played last season because of depth issues.
He recorded 77 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups at that spot, but he feels moving to his more natural position will help him become a better leader. He can spend more time mentoring other players and less time learning a new role.
"At safety, toward the beginning of the year, it wasn't a familiar place for me," Arrington said. "So when it comes to guiding, I had to learn for myself, so I couldn't guide other young guys.
"At linebacker, I'm right in the middle of all of the action. I can guide guys. I can get the defense set up. It's way more familiar for me. I believe I can play faster without having to think too much."
That small crew of seniors could end up being a blessing, Dobson and Arrington said. It means more responsibility for each man, but each knows where the others stand.
"(The small group) can be a good thing, too, because all of us can be on the same page," Dobson said. "There aren't too many seniors where one might just be on his own. We've been here with each other and we have a bond with each other. This year is our last year, so we're going to make it our best year."
They haven't paid much attention to preseason rankings. Conference USA beat writers slotted Marshall third in the East Division, and various preview magazines predicted the Herd to finish anywhere from second to fourth in the East. And they haven't thought about those magazines mentioning the Herd didn't make the big jump between Coach Doc Holliday's first and second seasons.
Holliday guided Marshall to a 5-7 record in his first season and to a 7-6 mark last year.
They think the big jump is on its way, as the young players who dominate the roster gained needed experience.
"The talent level on this team has increased tremendously since I've been here," Dobson said.
"Any type of way you want to look at it, our team is just better."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712.