Chuck Landon: Stubborn Taliaferro still there as starter
Every day, Marshall's fans expect him to be demoted.
And every day he isn't.
Yes, folks, Essray Taliaferro is still the Herd's first team running back.
Will it stay that way? Will the 5-foot-9, 183-pound former walk-on hold onto his job? Will a guy who was fourth string this time a year ago get the starting nod when Marshall hosts Miami (Ohio) in only 10 days?
Don't be shocked if it happens.
"You know what?" said offensive coordinator Bill Legg when asked about Taliaferro's first-team status. "He has earned it. When you earn something, you deserve that opportunity and he's been given the opportunity and he's taken full advantage of it. So, kudos to him."
Although Legg isn't surprised by Taliaferro's preseason camp performance, the fans certainly are. They expected Kevin Grooms to be the starting running back after earning 2012 Rookie of the Year honors in Conference USA.
And Grooms probably would be running with the first team if he hadn't suffered a mild high ankle sprain early in camp. That opened the door for Taliaferro and he never has looked back.
Not to him.
"Nah, I ain't surprised," said Taliaferro, who possesses 4.38 speed in the 40. "I don't doubt my talent. I know what I can do. I know my talent. ... my skill set. I feel like I can succeed just as well as any other back."
He proved that when Taliaferro got his first real opportunity against East Carolina in the regular-season finale last season. With the running back corps of Grooms, Remi Watson and Stew Butler all injured, Taliaferro got the call and responded with 130 yards rushing and a touchdown on 27 carries.
Yes, Marshall still lost the game, 65-59, in double overtime. And, sure, Taliaferro committed a key fumble. But he still has used that game and even that fumble as a springboard to more success.
"I've been working hard ever since the season was over," said the Washington, D.C., native. "That's because I was disappointed by the way it ended. Especially since I fumbled and felt like I let the team down and for a chance to go to a bowl game.
"That made me work harder from the off-season workouts to mat drills to waking up and being on time to even my diet and nutrition. Then, from summer workouts to conditioning and, then, when camp started. ... just playing football."
Basically, Taliaferro has continued to build on his East Carolina performance.
"Yeah, I've tried to keep the momentum going," he said. "I always knew I could do it. But that game proved to myself even more that I can do it and I can succeed."
Taliaferro proved it to everyone else, too.
"Yeah, they saw it," he said. "Stats don't lie."
Neither does work ethic.
"Wow, Essray has done a great job," said Legg.
So, now, Taliaferro is living the dream. He has gone from walk-on and fourth-stringer to first team status.
"It just goes to show you, it's not always about talent," said Legg. "It's not always about potential. At the end of the day, it's about production. And he's producing at a level that he's showing us that we can win with him on a consistent basis.
"As a result, he's up there."
Will he stay there? I'm not sure. But I do know one thing.
I'm pulling for Taliaferro.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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