Written by Justin Prince.
Now that the regular season is over for the Marshall football team its time to hand out some year-end honors to some of the team’s top performers.
Offensive Freshman of the Year
Tyler King – The 5-11 redshirt freshman missed the first couple of games of the year with an injury but when he finally debuted against Kent State it was obvious he was a game changer. King carried the ball for 101 yards and a score almost all exclusively in the fourth quarter to help put the Golden Flashes away. On the season the Florida native carried the ball 152 times for 714 yards and six touchdowns while averaging a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. He also added 11 receptions for 96 yards in the receiving game. King is a threat to make a big play every time he touches the ball and Herd fans will look forward to those plays over the next few seasons.
Defensive Freshman of the Year
Nazeeh Johnson– A product of Martinsburg, West Virginia, Johnson is a bit of a surprise in this category. The former walk-on however, made several key plays for the Herd including a pick six against rival Western Kentucky that helped seal the deal on Marshall’s 30-23 victory. On the year Johnson made appearances in 11 games registering 26 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, a pass break up, a fumble recovery and that crucial interception returned for a touchdown. While the eyes of most Herd fans were on a different defensive freshman, the highly recruited, Jaquan Yulee, Johnson quietly put together a solid freshman campaign.
Offensive Player of the Year
Tyre Brady –The Miami transfer quickly established himself as Chase Litton’s go-to target bursting onto the scene in the Herd’s second game of the season when he caught 11 passes for 248 yards and a score against N.C. State. The 6-3 junior missed all but one series of Marshall’s final three regular season games with a shoulder injury but still managed to pile up nearly 800 yards on 56 grabs both numbers were tops on the team. Brady also finished with seven touchdown catches good for the second most among Thundering Herd players. Marshall fans hope the game-breaker can return in time for the team’s bowl game, but if not they will be hoping for his return for his senior season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Chase Hancock – Another former walk-on from the state of West Virginia, Hancock has been a stalwart at the linebacker position for the Herd over the last 21 games since becoming a starter. This season Hancock lead Marshall with 120 tackles and was the only player on the team to register triple digit stops. The junior also racked up nine tackles for loss, two sacks and seven pass break ups and two fumble recoveries on the season. Hancock will be back next year leading the way once again for a deep Thunderin Herd linebacker corp.
Game of the Year
Marshall vs. Western Kentucky – The Thundering Herd had games in which it played better in 2017 and other games that were closer than its 30-23 victory over the Hilltoppers but no game meant more to the team and its fans than this one. Not only was the game played during the anniversary weekend of the tragic plane crash that killed 75 players, coaches, team boosters and the flight’s crew but it was against the Herd’s most heated rival in this new version of Conference USA. The bad blood between these two teams started in 2014 when a cocksure Brandon Doughty lead WKU to an upset victory, 67-66, over a previously undefeated Marshall team inside of Joan C. Edwards stadium. Things between the two teams only got more heated after the Hilltoppers embarrassed the Herd 60-6 in the season finale a year ago. This was a must win game for Marshall and the Huntington community and though it wasn’t pretty at times the Herd delivered when it had to and head coach Doc Holliday got his first win against Western Kentucky.
Play of the Year
Tyler King’s hurdle – So many big plays are made for any and every team over the course of the season, but few plays were as electric as King’s 28-yard scamper against Middle Tennessee. King made a jump cut in the hole, burst into the second level of the Blue Raiders’ defense and looked as if he was going to be stopped for about a ten yard gain when he hurdled a standing Middle Tennessee player, landed on his feet and rattled off another big chunk of yardage. The play made SportsCenter’s Top 10 and is one that’s sure to be on King’s highlight reel for the rest of his career.
Ryan Yurachek – The 6-3 senior tight-end had himself a year in 2017, setting career highs for receptions (47), yards (430) and touchdowns (9). But, it was more than his contributions on the stat sheet; it was his leadership both on the field and off of it. In 2016 as the Herd sputtered to a 3-9 record one of the things many felt the team lacked was leaders, in 2017 Yurachek took the reigns of leadership early in the off-season and never let them go. When flooding for Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area that Yurchek’s family calls home, he sprung into action and through a GoFundMe fundraiser raised more than $10,000 to help victims of the storm. He challenged his teammates vocally, to be better, to be more accountable and when Marshall’s regular season ended in heart breaking fashion to Southern Miss it was Yurachek who kneeled alone on the turf inside of Joan C. Edwards stadium reflecting on how much of himself he had left out there. Statistically, Yurachek will go down as one of the best tight-ends in Marshall history. His 136 career receptions are just outside the top 10 in school history and his 25 touchdown catches are the second most ever by a Herd tight-end and tied with Tommy Shuler for fifth overall. But, it will be Yurachek’s heart and intangibles that Herd fans will miss the most.