It's the donning of a new era for Marshall football as someone other than Rakeem Cato will be under center when the Herd opens its 2015 season versus Big Ten member Purdue Sept. 6 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. His name is Michael Birdsong and although this will be his first season for the Herd; he is far from a rookie.
Birdsong transferred to Marshall after spending two seasons with the Dukes. Birdsong started 14 games for the Dukes, finishing with 3,026 yards, 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. After spending last season on the scout team for the Herd, Birdsong is charged with replacing one of the best quarterbacks in Marshall history.
Its Birdsong's team now as Cato has moved on as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League. As he continues to build chemistry with his receivers, he is also working on building trust with two important members of the team, head coach Doc Holliday and offensive coordinator Bill Legg.
"I thought he handled himself very well and ran the team well," Holliday said of Birdsong after day one. "He understands the offense and was sharp out here today. I thought he was as sharp out here today as he was anytime in the spring."
Legg, while pleased, expects nothing less than perfect decision making qualities from his new signal caller.
"It's the first day of camp and we made some mistakes and we've got some things we got to clean up," Legg said of Birdsong. "I realize that there is not a perfect human being alive today, and none of these quarterbacks are going to be. From a decision-making standpoint, they can be on point. It starts with the mental process and making sure you are making the right decision and the ball is going where it's supposed to go, when its supposed to go there."
Legg said Birdsong benefitted from running the offense at James Madison, therefore allowing him to hit the ground running at Marshall.
"I'm sure a lot of that comes from the maturity of starting prior to coming to Marshall," he said.
However, trust does not come quickly and do not expect Legg to fully hand the reins over to Birdsong the first time out. Birdsong has to show he has the ability to calmly guide the ship in a storm.
"That can only be built upon but when it comes to any player, its all about what you are doing day to day," Legg said. "Cato was in a situation that he came in and was competing for the starting job as a true freshman. At least Mike has been here for a year and has been able to absorb some of the stuff that goes on here, which should benefit him."
Do not think this is like a pop quiz for Birdsong, more like a comprehensive final that he has been studying for since last season when he worked on the scout team. While Birdsong may not have been throwing passes to this year's receiving group, he was going up against one of the best defenses in the nation; something he said helped make him a better player.
"Being able to go against James Rouse and throw against Swagg (Darryl Roberts) who is with the New England Patriots, Taj (Letman), DJ (Hunter) and all those guys is what helped me," Birdsong said.
Spending time with his receivers in the off-season to develop chemistry has certainly paid off. In the opening session of the Herd fall camp, Birdsong found senior wide out Davonte Allen early and often, providing him with a true deep-ball threat.
"Personally coming off the spring, I felt the chemistry with me and my wide receivers built throughout the spring," Birdsong said. "We added the summer to that and you could see out here today that every deep ball with Davonte was right there on him and that's because we worked every day after lifting."
Hyleck Foster, who played as a true freshman last season, said Birdsong's height adds a newer element to the air attack, something they did not have last season.
"Birdsong is a little taller than Cato and he can see more, which let's us push our depth," Foster said. "Birdsong is putting the ball where it's supposed to be, when it's supposed to be there."
Offensive lineman Clint Van Horn echoes the words of his teammates in regards to his new quarterback.
"Even though he was on scout team last season, he was here in the spring," Van Horn said. "He was watching film and had Cato in his ear. Cato expected greatness from his fellow quarterbacks and Birdsong was not exception just because he was a transfer. In the spring he put in his work and when he came out here, we never missed a beat."
That's good news for fans that saw one of the most decorated players in Marshall history in Cato exit the program after graduation. The future looks bright for Birdsong's career at Marshall, how bright is totally up to him.