HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It was obvious to everyone that watched it in 2012 that the Marshall football team's defense needed a transformation. But who would have imagined one so drastic?
In one offseason, the Thundering Herd changed its defensive makeup in a way that allowed it to catapult up the national rankings, changing from liability to building block for a team trying to climb the Conference USA ladder. New faces on the coaching staff, new faces in the lineup and a new attitude all around have contributed to that growth and the players feel they're not done.
Senior defensive end Alex Bazzie has two very quick answers for the keys to the defenses improvement.
"Chuck Heater and Scott Sinclair," he said.
Defensive coordinator Heater and strength and conditioning Coach Sinclair arrived in the offseason and brought with them a new mindset they impressed upon the players nearly from the beginning. It first came from Sinclair, who, as strength and conditioning coach, has more access to the players than the rest of the staff.
Bazzie said the first steps, both physically and mentally, came in those offseason training sessions.
"Before we got into the scheme of things, we started strengthening ourselves," Bazzie said. "That's where our mindset, our toughness, started to come from. Coach Sinclair came in, observed for about a week, and after about a week, he kind of put his foot down.
"He made them think, 'I'm a winner,' even if they never thought of themselves as winner," he added. "He was changing minds."
Sinclair's role is an important, if underrated one, Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. Even during the times where the rest of the staff aren't allowed contact with the players, Sinclair and his staff are there to provide structure that some players hadn't experienced until they first stepped foot on a college campus.
The strength and conditioning staff works through the offseason to get the players' minds and bodies prepared for the regular season grind between August and December. And Holliday said Sinclair, who came to Marshall from the University of Central Florida, is fantastic at it.
"He's a tremendous, tremendous man," Holliday said. "He's got great character. What he preaches to these kids every day, he's done a tremendous job with them, not only physically, but mentally. They've bought in to what he tells them."