By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
It was four years ago when Houston last visited Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Rain was wreaking havoc with the World Series in Philadelphia, and it made for a chilly Tuesday night at Marshall.
The Thundering Herd was struggling in Mark Snyder’s fourth season as head coach and was faced with trying to slow down Cougars quarterback Case Keenum and an offense orchestrated by coordinator Dana Holgorsen — known better these days as the head coach at West Virginia.
Marshall didn’t exactly solve the Cougars, who rolled up 423 yards of offense. But Keenum threw two interceptions, and Houston was held to a season-low in points in the Herd’s 34-23 win.
But the game will be remembered less for the score and more for a scary injury to Houston receiver Patrick Edwards.
Running a deep route into the south end zone, Edwards was unable to make the catch. He couldn’t slow down immediately and his momentum took him up the short grassy area behind the end zone. He ran into a cart the Marshall band had left behind after its halftime show and suffered a gruesome break of his lower right leg.
First-year Houston head coach Tony Levine was an assistant on Kevin Sumlin’s staff that night. The Cougars (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) are having a down season, but Levine is confident of a better experience this time around.
Marshall (4-6, 3-3) will host Houston at noon Saturday. CSS will broadcast the game.
“The weather is supposed to be beautiful,” Levine said. “We are going to go on the road, play well and win a football game.”
Sounds a bit bold for the coach of a team that has the league’s worst defense against the pass about to go up against the top passing offense.
But Levine can be forgiven for his abundance of confidence. After what he and the rest of the team witnessed this week, their belief in anything is understood.
Early last week, defensive back D.J. Hayden suffered a life-threatening injury after being hit during practice. Hayden’s inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood to the heart, was torn. It was an injury that, according to reports, had never before been associated with football.
Rather, it is more common in automobile accidents and frighteningly close to 100 percent fatal.
Miraculously, however, Hayden survived. He came through surgery and was able to surprise his teammates with a visit to practice Monday.
He arrived in a wheelchair but walked into the room where he spoke to the team for about 15 minutes.
“His main message was to never take things for granted,” Levine said. “It wasn’t ‘win the game for me,’ it wasn’t necessarily football related, it was ‘take nothing for granted.’ He talked about the opportunity that everybody has, not just the players, and how quickly things can change and be taken from you. His message was extremely clear and everybody in the room understood.”
Levine said he noticed an affect on the players at practice later that evening.
“It puts things in perspective for everybody,” he said. “When you are at the age that our young men are, you tend to think you’re invincible. I go back to last Tuesday when after stretching, we called the team together for huddle, D.J. gave them a 30-second motivational talk, broke them down and then they split up into their groups. First part of practice, 20 minutes later a collision occurs and his life changes. That message was understood by everybody in the room.”