Marshall Says Farewell to Pennington

Updated 12/28/1999
JOHN RABY
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 starting quarterback.

"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 positions.

"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 running back.

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 three 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 2000.

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.