HUNTINGTON — Dec. 23, 2019.
That was the last time that Marshall’s football team was all together on the field at the same time — that being a 48-25 loss to UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida.
Since then, the entire world has changed with COVID-19 taking a grip globally, and especially here in the United States.
Still, on Friday, a small piece of normalcy returns as Marshall’s football team takes the field for the start of 2020 preseason practice.
For how long? Nobody knows.
Are they practicing for a season that may not even happen? Possibly.
However, Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick confirmed last week that practice would begin on time, making Friday the first day eligible for the entire team to be on the field.
“We are moving forward as if we are having a season, until they tell us otherwise,” Hamrick said. “Our season opener is Aug. 29 at East Carolina, and we start practice Friday to prepare for it.”
While the return of football provides a bit of normalcy, there is nothing normal about that return.
In keeping with standard protocols as outlined by local and state health officials as well as those within the university, conference and NCAA guidelines, players are getting daily temperature checks upon arrival to the Shewey Building before they are even allowed to enter for workouts or meetings.
As expected, fall preseason practices — which had been open to the public during the camp portion in the past — will be closed for the 2020 season.
While there are plenty of changes off the field, there are also some major changes for the Herd on the field as well.
Following the exit of two-year starter Isaiah Green, Marshall’s practice will see an open quarterback battle with Grant Wells, Luke Zban, Joe Lambiotte and newcomer Eli Sammons all in the mix.
Heck, the Herd could even throw a pair of tight ends into the mix with Xavier Gaines and Garet Morrell also having experience at the quarterback spot.
That battle will coincide with a long look at the center position as seniors Alex Salguero and Alex Mollette each get a fair amount of snaps in an effort to secure that position. Salguero backed up four-year starter Levi Brown last season while Mollette has plenty of starting experience at the guard spot and could slide into the center spot, if warranted.
Defensively, the linebacker spot is a position to watch with Tavante Beckett solidified, but a group of players around him who are unproven. That group is led by Delaware State grad transfer Brian Cavicante, but others to watch include Abraham Beauplan and Charlie Gray.
The cornerback position also lost a pair of veteran players in Chris Jackson and Kereon Merrell, but safety Micah Abraham could transition out to cornerback and join Steven Gilmore and Jaylon McClain-Sapp in what should be a talented group.
Marshall’s Friday practice starts the five-day acclimatization period in which players go helmets only, then shells (helmets and shoulder pads) before transitioning to full pads.
Under NCAA rules, teams are allowed to start practice 29 days prior to their first contest of the season.
During that 29-day period, they are allowed 25 practices and must take one day off per week.
Marshall’s 2020 season opener is currently scheduled for Aug. 29 at East Carolina in a contest that commemorates the 50th season since the 1970 Marshall plane crash on Southern Airways Flight 932.