HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Running back Essray Taliaferro spent most of his first three seasons on the Marshall University depth chart as an afterthought. He's spent this season joining an exclusive club in Thundering Herd history.
The redshirt senior's career-high 161 yards in the Herd's 59-28 win Friday over East Carolina - which clinched the Herd's first Conference USA East Division title and first berth in the C-USA title game versus Rice - made him just the 15th rusher in Herd history to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
Taliaferro has 1,006 yards on the year, and is the first Herd running back to eclipse 1,000 yards since Darius Marshall had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2008 and 2009. It was against ECU last season that Taliaferro had his breakout game, rushing for 130 yards.
"It was just the fact that I know I'm capable of putting up big yards against them," he said. "That showed today and that helped us get a victory."
After reaching the century mark for the first time versus the Pirates last year, he's done it in five games since, culminating in Friday's career best. He's gained those 1,006 yards on 185 carries, a 5.4-yard-per-carry average, and scored nine touchdowns, the most since Darius Marshall's 11 scores in 2009.
Even though his 2013 rushing totals more than doubled the sum of his first three seasons (104 carries, 441 yards, three touchdowns in 2010-12) his teammates aren't surprised. Center Chris Jasperse said he knew Taliaferro had it in him, and his second effort in battling for yards is what makes him Marshall's top runner.
"After he gets hit, he keeps going," Jasperse said. "That fumble (in the second quarter), hell, he already broke three tackles, then the last guy came in and got it out. That's going to happen when guys fight for extra yards, and he does a great job of fighting for extra yards and it really shows up in the stats."
After beginning his Herd career as a walk-on, Taliaferro has turned in one of the top rushing seasons in Marshall history. Despite the long road he traveled to become Marshall's featured back, he never considered quitting early.
"There's never been a time when I've thought about giving up," Taliaferro said. "My parents taught me better, to keep your head up and keep trying and keep trying. Eventually things will work out for you, and they did."
THE HERD could be without another running back for Saturday's C-USA title game, after Marshall indefinitely suspended sophomore Kevin Grooms following his Saturday arrest on misdemeanor domestic battery and obstruction charges.
Grooms - the C-USA freshman of the year after leading all conference freshmen in 2012 with 737 rushing yards - did not record a carry in Friday's win over ECU. Grooms, hampered for much of this season with a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason, is third on the team with 503 rushing yards on 91 carries.
DEVON JOHNSON considers himself an easygoing guy who can flash a mean streak on the field. The Herd was thankful for both aspects of his personality versus the Pirates.