Phoenix rise from near-extinction

Senior’s last-minute recruiting gives Marshall enough players to field team

Practice was the last place Mitch Oster expected to be Thursday afternoon.

The first-year Marshall football coach had gathered his team earlier in the day, prepared to tell them a lack of eligible players was forcing him to cancel the Phoenix’s varsity season, when the door to his classroom opened.

In walked Tony Toy and the Marshall senior lineman was followed by a dozen new players ready, willing and academically eligible to help keep the school’s season afloat.

“It was literally something out of a movie. It’s something that doesn’t happen,” an emotional Oster said. “I was totally stunned.”

“I guess I had pretty good timing,” Toy said with a laugh.

Toy had spent the last two days walking around the hallways at Marshall, persuading friends to join the team. When he relayed the seriousness of the situation, a group of students, many of whom played football last season, agreed to come out and play.

The new players had their first practice Thursday and joined the holdovers to give the team a tentative roster of 21.

“Coach looked really happy and relieved and he’s going to get to coach a varsity team,” Toy said. “And I feel great. A lot of these guys are my good friends and I can’t wait to play football with them.”

While Oster and Academic Athletic Association commissioner Don Collins expressed optimism over Thursday’s events, both cautioned there is still work to be done before the Phoenix are ready to line up and play.

“We feel optimistic that Mitch, given the time and the long run, will ultimately affect a change at Thurgood Marshall,” Collins said. “Putting a team together and getting it ready on short notice is tough. But I think you’re seeing what Mitch can do.”

Oster said the team is still hoping to “eek” out its first Academic Athletic Association game against Burton, scheduled for Sept. 30.

But coming from where the program was early Thursday, even having a full varsity practice was cause for celebration for Oster and his team.

“It’s kind of eerie given our mascot, the Phoenix,” Oster said. “But we were literally dead and Tony made the team rise up from the ashes. And I can’t wait to coach them.”

melliser@examiner.com

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