The search is on

Marshall University football seeks a starting quarterback for the first time in four years.


Richard Crank

Gunnar Holcomb takes the field with the Herd as it faces Ohio University Sept. 13, 2014 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.


With the loss of the school’s all-time leading passer Rakeem Cato, Marshall University’s football team is in search of a starting quarterback for the first time in four years.

The Herd has four quarterbacks on its spring roster— juniors Gunnar Holcombe and Michael Birdsong, and freshmen Cole Garvin and Chase Litton.

The team has yet to announce its starter for the regular season.

Holcombe, the only quarterback to have taken the field for the Herd, said he thinks his experience gives him a slight edge.

“I’ve been here longer than everyone else and have had some time in the offense,” Holcombe said. “But we all have the skill set. If anything, my edge is my experience in the offense and knowing what the coaches expect. But everyone has the intangibles and the physical tools to be the guy.”

While Birdsong has not taken a snap for the Herd, he started the entire 2013 season for James Madison University before he transferred to Marshall.

“The thing I have going for me is that I’ve played college football,” Birdsong said. “I had a team that I’ve lead through a season before. That’s the biggest asset that I’m going to focus on and try to use to my advantage.”

During his time with the Dukes, Birdsong said he learned what it took to be a leader.

If you try to go out and replace and be him then you’re going to mess up because everyone’s different.”

— Gunnar Holcombe

“I don’t really get down too much,” Birdsong said. “I’m always kind of upbeat. I’m always ‘Shake it off and let’s just go.’ I’m not going to yell at my guys or get on their case. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m going to try to pick them up and get them going. That’s what I feel like being a leader is about. It’s not about getting down on them all the time. Of course, you have to get on them at certain times, but it’s not all about that. You got to pick them back up and tell them what they did wrong.”

Holcombe said he picked up valuable leadership qualities by watching and studying Cato.

“He showed me how to read players and how to coach them up,” Holcombe said. “He taught me to go communicate with them so you’re on the same page. That’s what he was big on, communicating with them. They always knew what he thought. He didn’t hold back.”

Holcombe and Birdsong said their goal is to be the best quarterback they can be while not worrying about the challenge of replacing Cato.

“If you try to go out and replace and be him then you’re going to mess up because everyone’s different,” Holcombe said. “Like coach said, he’s not looking for the next Rakeem Cato, he’s looking for the next guy who’s going to come out, lead the team and do what he wants us to do consistently.”

Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]