ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The Marshall football team's senior class has been hearing a lot this week about the memories they're making with this trip to the Military Bowl. It started the night they arrived, with the words from Roy Tabb, a member of the "Young Thundering Herd" 1971 roster. And it continued when former superstar quarterback Byron Leftwich talked to them after practice Tuesday at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes High School in Alexandria, Va.
But when seniors like defensive end Alex Bazzie and running back Essray Taliaferro came off that high school field Wednesday night, one of the last times they'd wear a Herd uniform, they admitted the significance hadn't hit them yet.
Leftwich didn't blame them. He knows it'll take a little while.
"They can't because they're too young," he said. "I remember when we were doing it; we thought we'd do this forever. And then, when you get older - especially since I retired - now I've got the opportunity to just reflect on football. A lot of my memories, my big memories and big moments, came in that (Marshall) helmet."
This 2013 senior class has seen plenty in its time in Huntington. The fifth-year players are the last remnants of the Mark Snyder regime. The fourth-year seniors are the first that current Coach Doc Holliday brought into the fold.
Only in Snyder's last season in 2009 did the Herd finish with a winning record in his tenure. Holliday has two winning seasons in the last three. And while the slogan around the program has been "We play for championships," Marshall hadn't played in a conference title game since the 2002 Mid-American Conference championship. That drought ended this year, when the Herd throttled East Carolina to win the Conference USA East Division and a berth in the C-USA title game versus Rice.
And while the Herd went to one bowl game in Snyder's five seasons, the Military Bowl is the second in Holliday's last three as Marshall's coach. This team, which wanted to put the Marshall program closer to the lofty perch it enjoyed in college football more than a decade ago, has set it on its way. Its nine wins are the Herd's most since that 2002 MAC Championship-winning season, and a win today would give them double-digit victories for the first time since that year.
This senior class has seen individual success as well. Tight end Gator Hoskins, with his 26 career touchdown catches, has become one of the most prolific scoring threats among all receivers in team history. Essray Taliaferro was a fourth-string running back at one point during 2012. Yet his steadiness carried him to the top of the depth chart this season and to 1,006 rushing yards as he enters today's game. The running back who once was an afterthought has become the Herd's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009.