Associated Press Writer
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) - Sometime in the next nine months, between the
winter recruiting season and the first kickoff, Marshall will find a new
"Replacement" isn't a fair term, not when it's used in the same
breath as Chad Pennington.
Not when Pennington had a 47-6 record as a starter with 115 career
touchdowns and 12,358 yards, became a Heisman finalist in 1999 and
ranked second nationally in the regular season in touchdowns (37) and yards (3,799).
Not when he led the Thundering Herd to two straight victories in the
Motor City Bowl and capped the winningest decade ever in college
football with a 13-0 season and first-ever national ranking in 1999.
The new starting quarterback will have to do just that: start anew. How
appropriate, then, that he will take over when the numbers _ both in
years and in Marshall's victories - get turned back to zero.
Marshall is said to be looking at several junior college quarterbacks.
There also is Pennington's backup, sophomore Byron Leftwich, who
completed 7 of 11 passes for 60 yards in an injury-filled season.
Leftwich has the advantage of having watched Pennington, a projected
high NFL draft pick whose energy and leadership rubbed off on all
"Byron's got a shot at doing some great things here," Pennington
said. "It basically boils down to who wants to go out there and become
the new leader and who wants to take it upon themselves to do anything they can to better
themselves and the football team."
Whoever it is, the expectations will be mighty, yet he can take comfort
in what occurred before him.
Besides Pennington, there was Florida transfer Eric Kresser, who led
Marshall to the 1996 Division I-AA championship; and Michael Payton,
winner of the Walter Payton Award as I-AA's top player in 1992, when Marshall won its
first I-AA championship.
And Todd Donnan was no slouch, either, leading Marshall into the I-AA
playoffs in 1993 and 1994.
Quarterback "X" will have company. He'll hand off to a new starter at
Doug Chapman, a 1,000-yard rusher his first three seasons, ran for 721
yards in an injury-filled senior year. He rebounded with 133 yards and
touchdowns in Monday's 21-3 Motor City Bowl win over Brigham Young and
was named the game's most valuable player.
"You can't live up to his expectations," said freshman Chanston
Rogers, who will likely replace - um, follow - Chapman as the starter.
"I've just got to go out there and play my best, just make I sure I do everything to help my team."
In all, the losses are split down the middle. Eleven starters are done,
11 return. The good news is a number of reserves got ample playing time
in blowout victories.
Senior linebacker Andre O'Neal tells fans not to worry.
"They're going to be pleasantly surprised with the depth and talent
that's still here," he said. "Because they don't know big names that
are playing next year, they tend to think we're losing everything. I don't think it's going to be a tremendous dropoff."
Three of the top four receivers are returning, including Nate Poole,
who led the team with 71 catches for 1,122 yards.
Also, receivers coach Gunter Brewer is hoping for production from
current freshmen Brian Greenleaf and Demetrius Doss, sophomore Curtis
Jones and former Nitro receiver Chris Martin, who will be a redshirt freshman in
The Herd must replace three starting offensive linemen and much of a
defense that ranked seventh in the nation. Gone are linemen Ron Puggi
and Giradie Mercer, linebackers O'Neal and John Grace and safety Rogers Beckett.
The rest of the secondary is intact. Danny Derricott, Maurice Hines and
Doug Hodges will be seniors next season.
Curtis Head will return as punter but Billy Malashevich, the
placekicker on short field goals, is gone. He was 8-of-8 during the
regular season but played little after Oct. 2 with a hip injury and a torn quadricep muscle. He missed three field goals in the Motor City Bowl.
No. 11 Marshall learned in 1999 that a Mid-American Conference school
can gain respect in the national polls, even though for now the league
cannot promise a better reward than a bowl trip north in December.
If Marshall is content with playing every year for a berth in the Motor
City Bowl, then being in the MAC is a good match.
"I'd be tickled to death if I get to come back to the Motor City
Bowl," coach Bob Pruett said. "That means we won the league."
Without Pennington, no less.