Writer's note: This is the fifth installment of a 10-part series breaking down Marshall's 2019 football team by position before the Thundering Herd reports to preseason camp on Aug. 1. This story will focus on Marshall's special teams.
HUNTINGTON — Over the decade as head coach of the Marshall Thundering Herd, Doc Holliday has consistently strived to be atop Conference USA in special-teams performance.
That is again the case in 2019 with Holliday looking to win the advantage in the game's third phase.
Especially in recent seasons, Marshall's ability to win the field-position battle has enabled its strong defense to limit the opposition, forcing them into long fields.
With several defensive starters gone from last season's top-25 ranked unit, the field-position advantage that special teams gains is likely to be even more vital in 2019.
The good news for the Herd is that many of the key components return from a solid unit in 2018.
Kicker Justin Rohrwasser is back to handle field goal and kickoff duties and has been training throughout the summer with different specialists. Last season, Rohrwasser connected on 15 of 21 field goal attempts with a long of 40 yards.
Two things Rohrwasser wants to do is improve on accuracy and leg strength - two aspects that the summer work with other specialists has aided.
In addition to his own personal growth, Rohrwasser also benefits from having his snapper and holder back for 2019 as well.
Long snapper Matthew Beardall is a preseason All-Conference USA selection after being named the 2018 All-Conference First Team selection as well.
Beardall's accuracy on snaps combines with the consistency and experience of holder Jackson White, giving the Herd a three-part mechanism within the kicking game that will go into their second full year together in football's quickest timing aspect.
White, also a backup quarterback, is going into his third year of holding placekicks for the Herd.
Punter Robert LeFevre returns for his second season after taking the reins from current NFL punter Kaare Vedvik in 2018.
Following Vedvik was no easy task, but LeFevre did a solid job of continuing the Herd's field-position success, averaging 41 yards per punt with 22 of his 62 being inside the 20.
Much like Rohrwasser, LeFevre is looking to bolster his success with consistency and leg strength, which he has been working on in the offseason.
LeFevre also has been working to improve his hang time, one thing he was inconsistent with in 2018. Because he punts with a low trajectory, opponents were able to attempt returns on nearly 70 percent of his punts - a number that could reduce with better hang time.
While the kickers all return for the Herd, there could be a few new faces in the return game. Talented kick returner Keion Davis is gone, as is Marcel Williams, who became a strong punt returner.
That means the Herd will take a strong preseason look at several players who could step into those roles in an effort to set the Herd offense up in advantageous territory.
Two names which instantly jump out as possibilities for the Herd include wide receiver Willie Johnson, who has experience as a returner dating back to his freshman year, and running back Tyler King, who possesses the gamebreaker speed to hit a crease.
With many starters back on each side of the ball, solidifying those special teams spots will be an early focus for Holliday and his staff in camp.
Marshall's block and coverage units were solid in 2018, and the Herd went through a four-game streak late in the year in which they made a big play in the punt block/return game, directly leading to touchdowns.
Players such as Darius Hodge and Jaquan Yulee made their mark in those areas last season and will be called on once again to do so.
CAPITAL COUGAR COMMITS: Capital High School 2020 standout Kerion Martin verbally committed to Marshall on Friday afternoon, according to a post he put on social media.
Martin has excelled as a two-way athlete for the Cougars and head coach Jon Carpenter as a wide receiver and a safety.
The 6-foot, 190-pound safety prospect participated in The Opening Regional in the spring and registered a 4.7 40-yard dash time and a 31-inch vertical leap, according to his 247Sports listing.