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Herd takes the field

MU football
Mar. 27, 2013 @ 12:48 AM

HUNTINGTON -- When Marshall University's football team opened spring practice in 2012, the skies were beautiful, the sun was shining and players were in shorts.

What a difference a year makes.

As Marshall's 2013 spring practice began Tuesday the players were in shorts, but the scene was more like a regular-season finale than a spring opener.

It was 35 degrees and intermittent sleet filled the air at Joan C. Edwards Stadium for the first of 15 spring sessions.

"This is really winter," said wide receiver Tommy Shuler. "We're out there in the cold."

Regardless of the elements, the Thundering Herd got going quickly in head coach Doc Holliday's fourth season at the helm.

"You only have 15 opportunities in spring and you can't waste one," Holliday said.

"If you don't go out there and take advantage of every one of those 15 opportunities, we're not going to get where we need to go and I think the kids understand that."

On a day when sleet briefly covered the field at one point, the heat quickly got turned up by the players and coaches.

During team drills, quarterback Rakeem Cato and wide receiver Tommy Shuler got in the ear of the defense early on to ensure things wouldn't get stagnant with the less-than-favorable elements.

"I want everybody on our level and to get rowdy," Shuler said. "It isn't any beef or anything with the defense. It's just to get them better and make us better. We want to compete and have that mentality in the spring."

Cato said there was plenty of adrenaline flowing after finally getting back on the field for a practice -- the team's first live practice since before the season-ending double-overtime loss to East Carolina last year.

"I mean, it hit a lot of people last year -- the whole team," Cato said. "Everybody's focused in now and everybody knows what it takes to win. Everybody's hungry and doing whatever it takes to win."

Defensively, the heat also was turned up as well -- as in, new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater and staff who are looking to turn around a 2012 season when the Herd was next-to-last nationally in points allowed per game.

"It was fun to watch those guys work," Holliday said. "You watch coach Heater and (linebackers) coach (Adam) Fuller and the defensive staff with (interior defensive lineman coach) J.C. (Price) and Sean Cronin out there, and it was good to watch those guys. They are great teachers. You could tell that today."

Holliday confirmed that Price will coach the interior defensive line (shade, nose, 3-technique) and Cronin is officially on staff now and will coach defensive ends.

With so many new guys coaching on the defensive side of the ball, returning captain and senior defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said the team has embraced the change but will have to be patient and work together during a crucial spring acclimation period.

"He (Heater) comes in and you take him serious right off the bat because you see where he's been and the things he's accomplished. You have to respect things like that," Taylor said. "Getting things from coach Price and coach Cronin, you know, coming from different perspectives, it's going to help a lot because you're getting it from both ways."

Coaches are not the only change, though, as several key personnel were on the field for Tuesday's practice.

Defensively, safety Taj Letman caught the eye of people at the practice when he went up in front of fellow newcomer Shawney Kersey -- a Penn State transfer -- and snagged a diving interception.

Kersey was on the field with former teammate Devon Smith, who transferred to Marshall last year and made his first-ever spring appearance after redshirting in 2012. Both are going to be vital for the Herd.

In addition to Letman, other key defensive contributors include linebackers Kent Turene and Stefan Houston, as well as cornerback Corey Tindal.

Marshall returns to the field for 3:30 p.m. sessions on Thursday and Friday.

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