Marshall Finding Its Groove Under First-Year Coach Claude Mathis
The Marshall football program grabbed a lot of headlines in March when news broke that Claude Mathis would be the Mavericks' new head coach.
And rightfully so. Mathis turned DeSoto into a state powerhouse and was in the college FBS ranks on the SMU coaching staff when he decided to return to the high school level.
Not only that, but he also went to a new territory -- East Texas.
"The weather's different down here for sure, and oh my goodness the pine trees are everywhere," Mathis said with a laugh on Wednesday. "And you have to travel a lot down here; nobody's next door. It's a one-horse town and you're the (athletic director) and you don't have to share your kids with anyone else. I love it."
The early headlines to Marshall's 2017 season, however, weren't as glamorous. The Mavericks started the year 0-4, including three losses by a touchdown or less. With no bye week in between non-district and district play, Marshall had to jump right in to District 16-5A action against league favorite Texas High.
The Mavericks came out on top, 35-33, thanks to the defense stopping Texas High's two-point conversion attempt to tie the game with 1:35 left.
Then Marshall won again, 50-20 over Sulphur Springs, and then again, 40-0 against Mount Pleasant, to sit at 3-0 in district and in the driver's seat for a playoff berth and potentially a district title.
"That Texas High game was a huge game for us, because we knew that we had a great chance to win the district title after that game," Mathis said. "We gave ourselves a good chance to win and we did it. Now it could have changed our whole season around."
Marshall closes out the season with Greenville, Hallsville and Pine Tree, and the Mavericks should be favored in each one. The Mavericks haven't won a district championship since 2005, which ended in a loss to Highland Park in the state championship.
Despite a slow start, a district title would be a landmark occasion for his program, Mathis said.
"That would be a big turnaround here. Moreso I'd be so happy for our seniors because they deserve it. I want them to go out with a bang, and we're going to keep working hard to let them go out with a bang," Mathis said.
Marshall is finding its groove with plenty of young talent on the field, as its quarterback and second-leading rusher (JJ Green) and two leading receivers (Tahj Washington and Dekendrick Bender ) will all return next year.
But they're flanked by players with experience, including LSU commit and offensive lineman Chasen Hines, leading rusher Rodarius Smith and leading tackler Corteze Hurd.
"We're looking for a playoff spot, so our guys need to keep working on the little things to get better for our playoff run. We need to continue to show improvement every single week," Mathis said. "I wish we could have had things early on start like this, but things are going well right now. The kids are playing hard. We just need to keep evolving as a team."
In the midst of trying to continue to win on a weekly basis, shooting for a district title and a long playoff run, Mathis also has focus on the bigger picture: creating his type of culture in Marshall and getting the entire athletic program where he feels it needs to be.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work and dedication, and many hours from our coaching staff, but we want to be on a consistent level to get into the playoffs year in and year out, and win district titles year in and year out. And we want to be a top five team in the nation -- not just the state -- on a consistent basis," Mathis said. "And I want our kids to improve on the academics side as well; I don't ever want to lose any kids to academics. We just have to continue to dedicate ourselves to our kids and do the little things."