HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – ‘Hanging with the Herd’ is back for another week and this week we’re talking about the defense.

The Thundering Herd have produced some quality defensive talent over the years. Safety Nazeeh Johnson was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Marshall returns a bulk of its starters from its 2021 team. The Thundering Herd defense tied for first in the Conference USA in scoring defense, allowing 22.8 points-per-game and led the league in passing yards allowed.

Sports Director Cassidy Wood sat down with Koby Cumberlander, Owen Porter and Eli Neal to get their thoughts on the upcoming season, new transfers and why they decided to come back to Huntington.

Porter finished 2021 with 44 tackles and four sacks. He said in the offseason before fall camp, the primary goal is to put on weight and build strength.

“A lot of times people will lose weight during season so right now is the pinnacle point to put on as much as you can in a healthy way so once we get into camp and the season you can maintain as much as possible,” he said.

Porter is a Spring Valley grad, and he says playing for Marshall means so much, because this is his home.

“Everybody that watched me play midget league football, they watched me play high school football, now they sit there and watch me play college football,” said Porter. “So it just means a little bit more because these are your people. This is your community, your family. So it always means a little more to put on a show for them.”

Cumberlander returns as a sixth-year senior, his final year of eligibility. He finished 2021 with 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He said after last year’s loss in the New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana, it left him with a sour taste.

“That was the ultimate thing. Coming back for the guys one more year,” Cumberlander said. “Just to have fun because this place means so much to me. It’s a second home to me. Never in a million years would I have thought of living in Huntington, West Virginia. But the 6 years I’ve been here.. it’s grown on me a lot. And people don’t give West Virginia the credit it deserves because it’s a beautiful place.”

The team also added new players into the fold including Jace Bobo from Northern Colorado, Isaiah Norman from Austin Peay and Andre Sam from McNeese State. Other key returns include defensive back Steven Gilmore, linebackers Abraham Beauplan and Charlie Gray.

“We hope to get more experience playing with each other,” said Porter. “We’ve added a lot of guys that we did have last year, so from spring ball to incoming camp we hope to gain a little more experience and comfortability with each other.”

Eli Neal, the team’s second-leading tackler in 2021 with 97, said the new additions will help the team this season.

“Bringing in the new guys, it was really easy and very smooth transition coming in,” Neal said. “So I feel like we brought in a couple pieces that we needed… and they gelled together pretty quickly.”

Marshall kicks off the 2023 campaign Sept. 3 against Norfolk State at 3:30 p.m. Tune into WOWK every Friday night at 11 as we continue to break down Herd football ahead of the season.