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Marshall football: Herd opens camp calm, confident

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall University football team's youth movement of last year has made for a much more confident start to the 2012 season.

Even with the country's second youngest roster - only eight seniors on the team - the Herd entered Monday's first preseason practices calmer than last year. The freshmen and sophomores of last year are the sophomores and juniors of now - seasoned and ready to build upon the progress they made.

One man who wasn't nervous about the new season was Coach Doc Holliday. Sure, the players are young, but not necessarily inexperienced.

"We played a lot of these young kids a year ago," Holliday said. "They're young, but they played a lot of football. I'd rather have a young team that was talented than older guys who can't play. I'll take what we've got."

Running back Tron Martinez, who said his knees were feeling better, was easing his way back into practice Monday. Clad in a red jersey, he spent more time during the morning practice mentoring newcomers.

Martinez remembers what it was like to enter a season with uncertainty. He was a first-year starter as a sophomore and felt a constant need to prove himself in that role. Eleven starts and a team-high 649 rushing yards later, he enters his junior season with confidence.

"I came in last year and really didn't know what to expect," he said. "I just knew I had to come out here and keep proving my point and keep playing hard. This year, I'm still working hard and I'm helping people around me."

And while he's confident, he doesn't want to rest on his laurels.

"I don't want to get complacent with the spot I'm in, because there's always room for growth," he said. "I feel like I can always do better."

Holliday said he was impressed not just with the running backs, but he liked how all the skill positions looked.

"I think probably the most improved areas are our skill areas," he said. "You take wideouts, secondary and running backs, we've got some depth there and some competition there, which is good."

One of those Thundering Herd newcomers, freshman defensive back A.J. Leggett, didn't seem to suffer from those first-day jitters.

His interception off of a Gunnar Holcombe tipped pass provided one of Monday's highlights.

Leggett said that, while he's in new surroundings, the basics of the game remain the same.

"It's what I've been working for all my life, playing on a D-I field," he said. "At the end of the day, we're playing football. There's nothing to be really nervous about."

*  *  *

HOLLIDAY ANNOUNCED after Monday's morning practice that offensive lineman Josue Joseph, tight end Rakim Reed and linebacker T.J. Ross were no longer with the team.  

Ross played in 10 games, recording seven tackles and assisting in a tackle for loss with one quarterback hurry. Reed participated in spring drills after arriving from Fork Union Military Academy, but transferred to Division II Walsh University. Another Fork Union tight end, Chris Hall, who was supposed to transfer to Marshall, instead transferred to Virginia Union.

He added that linebacker Kent Turene and defensive back Corey Tindal, both 2012 signees from Atlanta Sports Academy, will arrive when classes start. Holliday knew of no NCAA Clearinghouse issues.

Holliday also said there was no timetable for defensive lineman Ken Smith (undisclosed injury) and defensive back Darryl Roberts (wore a walking boot on his right foot) to return to the practice field.

*  *  *

THREE PLAYERS have switched positions for the 2012 season. Redshirt freshman Armonze Daniel, formerly a linebacker, moved to defensive line, while sophomore Evan McKelvey switched from safety to linebacker and freshman Stefone Grace moved from linebacker to tight end.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712.


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