Call them Thunder & Lightning, or Smash & Dash. Maybe if you are old school, you might say Mr. Inside & Mr. Outside.
But whatever you name them, call Marshall’s Chris Upright and Forrest Jackson two of the big reasons Marshall is having a resurgence this season on the football field.
Behind a new coaching philosophy and a strong running game, Marshall has started the season at 4-1, including an impressive state rankings-rattling win over then-No. 2-ranked Jackson Lumen Christi last week.
“This has been the plan from the beginning, establish a strong running game,” said first-year Marshall head coach Jason Stealy. “With me playing for Coach Hulkow and for Coach Mallory at Indiana, that’s what we did back in the day. There’s just a lot less that can go wrong if you can run the ball well.”
Stealy took over a Marshall program that had missed the playoffs in four of the last five years, going 3-6 last season. Stealy is a Marshall alum who played for longtime Redhawks coach Rich Hulkow, who won two state titles at the school. Stealy also went on to play college football as an offensive lineman at Indiana University under Bill Mallory.
Stealy was determined to run the ball this season, with two standout running backs and a big offensive line. Currently, everything is going to plan.
“Being the JV coach last year, I knew what we had and I thought we had the offensive line that could do it and the running backs with Chris and Forrest. And it has worked, we just have to keep working and keep getting better each week,” Stealy said.
The diversity Upright and Jackson bring to the offense seems to be the key. A classic fullback, Upright can get the tough yards for Marshall. An athletic halfback, Jackson has the potential to break long runs each time he has the ball.
“You see Chris get the ball and carry three or four guys, three or four yards. Then you see Forrest squirt around the end for big yards. The guys love seeing those big runs from Chris and the big plays from Forrest. It gets everyone excited about what we are doing,” Stealy said. “And the key is, if you have two backs that can do what they do that you can get the ball to, the other team can’t key on one.”
Jackson leads Marshall with 816 yards through five games and nine touchdowns and likes having the extra work in the backfield.
“They say we are lightning and thunder, I saw that in the paper. I think that describes us pretty good,” Jackson said. “Our new coaching staff really pushes the running game. I love how the coaches have us running the ball all the time.”
Upright, who is also a hard-hitting linebacker, adds 325 yards rushing and four touchdowns and points out both backs have received a big boost from the offensive line.
“Coaches said at the start of the season, the running game would eventually start to click and it’s clicking now. Forrest is taking off, our hogs on the line are doing their thing, we have the inside and the outside going, it’s all working,” Upright said. “I like hitting people, running people over, so I’m having fun doing that. But we can’t do anything without our offensive line and they have gotten the job done.”
Stealy, who is also the offensive line coach, agrees – pointing out lineman Ryan Westrick, Jackson Friend, Owen Miller, Justin Halcomb, Corey Dexter and tight end AJ Jasienski have all played well this season.
“As the offensive line coach, I’ve put them through the wringer this year to get them better because any good football team needs a good offensive line. When they are going, everything else works,” Stealy said.
The result has been three straight wins as the team now believes it can make a run to the playoffs, while also having hope to contend in the Interstate 8 Conference. The only loss for the Redhawks this season was a tight 9-7 loss to undefeated Coldwater, which is now in first in the league.
“I didn’t know if we could turn it around this quick, honestly, but we have come together as a team and we have started to win games,” Jackson said.
And if there were any non-believers, they probably came around last week after the upset win over Lumen Christi.
“It was a huge win over Lumen Christi. I still can’t get over the fact we beat them. It sets the tone for the rest of the year,” Upright said.
The next two games for Marshall are against teams with sub-.500 records, but the Redhawks end with rival Harper Creek and undefeated Portland. So there is still work to do, according to Stealy.
“In our first meeting with the team, we said our goal was to win the I-8, which wasn’t going to be easy, would take a lot of work, but that was our goal. And to make the playoffs,” Stealy said. “I’m not sure they all believed it could happen, but now that they’ve seen some success on the field I think they believe.
“We still need some help in the I-8, but we have a chance, and the playoffs are still ahead with some work to do – but we are going in the right direction.”