HUNTINGTON -- Marshall Coach Doc Holliday knew he'd have to fill some holes on the Thundering Herd's defense with his 2013 football signing class. And that need grew, at least with the Herd fanbase at large, with each game of 2012.
The Herd allowed at least 40 points in seven of 12 games, and at least 50 points in four of them, culminating in a 65-59 double-overtime loss at East Carolina that knocked Marshall out of bowl contention. The Herd sat at the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision in offense, but lingered at the bottom in defense on its way to a 5-7 record.
In trying to rebound from those performances, Holliday mixed prep school and junior college players among the 14 defenders they added in the 29-recruit signing class.
"We felt going in, we knew what the needs were," Holliday said. "With the way the offenses are going in today's world, you have to be able to create a pass rush with your down four or down three, whatever scheme you're running. We need some pass rushers that can get there without having to blitz.
"We worked hard on getting that done, along with the people we knew we already had on campus, to shore that deal up. And at the linebacker position, we wanted to continue to get more athletic."
Five of the 14 defenders were rated as four-star prospects by at least one recruiting service: Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington safety Michael Johnson, Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High cornerback D'Andre "Chocolate" Wilson, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy linebacker Stefan Houston, Hollywood (Fla.) McArthur linebacker Jeremiah Benjamin and Atlanta (Ga.) Sports Academy linebacker Kent Turene.
Marshall's 2012 defensive statistics show the unit could use the help. There were 120 members of the FBS last season. The Herd was ranked 101st in total defense, allowing 456.58 yards per game.
It ranked 119th in scoring defense, allowing 43.08 points per game. Marshall scored at least 38 points and lost in three games last season.
Those woes weren't the primary motivation for Wilson to sign his letter of intent to Marshall. He loved how the program made him feel like family and how Huntington reminded him of Clemson when it came to a town enamored with college football. But that doesn't mean he isn't excited to join the Herd roster and make as big of an impact he can.
"I want to come in and try to play my role," Wilson said. "I want to do the best I can to help the defense. I'll try my best. I'm excited. I'm ready to learn a new defensive style."
A knee injury shortened Wilson's senior season to two games, where he recorded 15 tackles, but he racked up 39 tackles, six interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns as a junior. He's talked with new Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and feels he has the traits that will make him valuable in Marshall's lineup.