It’s been a painful year for Brian Shope, and not just because Marshall is in the midst of it its first losing season in 22 years.

The Portage graduate, who is a redshirt sophomore tight end at the Huntington, W.Va., school, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee before the first game of the season. Still, Shope soldiered on, playing eight games before he tore the meniscus in the same knee in the Thundering Herd’s 27-26 win over Tulane.

Shope underwent surgery two weeks ago and expects to be back on the field in time for spring practice. But he had to watch from the sidelines on Saturday as East Carolina beat Marshall 34-29.

“It’s hard to go out there and watch the team play,” Shope said. “But I also look at it as I played eight games when I could have played none. The guys on the team know what I went through to help them out and be part of the team.”

Shope’s contributions to the team cannot be measured in his stats. The tight end is not a big pass-catching threat in the Marshall offense – starter Jeff Mullins has only seven receptions on the season for 50 yards and a touchdown.

Mullins, a senior, started every game this season but split time with Shope. The ACL injury kept Shope from being much of a factor in the passing game. On third-and-long situations, Shope would be taken out of the game so that Mullins could run deep pass routes.

The torn ACL also kept Shope from practicing much, meaning that he had to spend more time in the film room to make up for the repetitions that he was missing out on.

Shope said that Marshall’s prolific past has caused it to unfairly be labeled a passing team.

“Marshall became stereotyped as a passing offense because they had Chad Pennington and Randy Moss and then, bam, straight into Byron Leftwich for three or four years,” Shope said. “But we have a running back, Ahmad Bradshaw, this year that is one of the best runners that I’ve ever seen.”

Shope has also had to adapt to a new head coach this season as former Marshall defensive back Mark Snyder replaced Bob Pruett, who retired unexpectedly in the spring.

“I think we all really like Coach Snyder,” Shope said. “At first it was kind of scary. You hear that they bring in a whole new staff in and if they don’t like you, they’ll take your scholarship. But we’re all starting to relate to him. He’s a great a guy.”

The Herd’s struggles this year can be attributed to a young team, Shope said. Marshall had only three returning starters on offense.

“We have a young team full of talent,” said Shope, who is the son of Daniel and Deborah Shope of Portage. “We have so many good players, we’re just lacking the game experience. We’ve been in games, but we haven’t been able to get it done in the fourth quarter.”

He knows the season is not over yet for his team, but with his surgically repaired knee, Shope expects to be a big part of the offense next year.

“A lot of the guys have two years left, including me,” he said. “I think we’re going to end up being really, really good.”



Eric Knopsnyder can be reached at 532-5080 or eknopsnyder@tribdem.com.

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