OHIO VALLEY | Transfers bring scoring threat to Eastern Illinois ground game

Although hardly twins in stature, running backs Devin Church and Korliss Marshall will bear an unwelcome similarity to Ohio Valley Conference opponents coming out of EIU's backfield this fall.

Both are transfers from FBS schools – Church from Illinois and Marshall from Arkansas. Both are communication majors and both are threats to score at any moment when they have the ball.

Combined, they’ll form one of the best running back tandems in the nation this fall.

"Korliss (6-0, 210 pounds) is bigger than I am," said the 5-8, 195 pound Church. "He definitely brings more power – he's got power and speed. More of a one step, cut, and take it to the crib guy. Whereas I've got the speed and I'll make you miss in the open field.”

“If either one of us is in, we know something positive is going to happen," Marshall added. "We rely on one another to make those big plays.” This fall will be the first in the Panthers’ backfield for the redshirt junior.

For Church, a redshirt senior, the incentive for transferring to EIU was clear. “The reason was definitely the chance to showcase my talents. At U of I, I just wasn’t getting the opportunity to show anybody what I could do on game day.”

He reached out to the Panthers after hearing good things about the program, and the Panthers more than returned his interest.

“Once some coaches watched my film they said how they felt that I could contribute immediately,” said Church. “Coming from not playing that much at U of I, and hearing that, it grabbed my attention. Once I spoke with the coaches I knew that's where I wanted to go.”

Through a former recruiting contact, Marshall became aware of EIU and embraced the opportunity to be an impact player.

“I went into this school with the same passion as I went into Arkansas. I realized that guys that go to schools like EIU have to work just as hard as guys that go to bigger schools. So it’s been a great transition,” said Marshall.

Marshall pointed out that Church was key in helping him grasp the Panthers' scheme once he arrived on campus.

“It was struggle at first, but that’s when Church came in. We got together certain nights, got in the playbook, and got out there on the field and ran through some schemes. I also stayed up late nights learning it,” said Marshall.

At quarterback, FBS talent also bolsters EIU. Redshirt sophomore Bud Martin (Florida International) and redshirt junior Mitch Kimble (Syracuse) are competing for the starting spot, with returning redshirt junior Austin Green also in the mix.

"The three have really been going at it in camp. It's all going to depend on who makes the plays, and I know they're all going to get a chance," said Church.

Marshall has been impressed with the trio of quarterbacks. “Each of our quarterbacks has ability in every aspect of the game. All of them do positive things when they’re on the field. So I just look forward to that one quarterback or that rotation. I’m fine with either one.”

Like the competing quarterbacks, the two backs have pushed each other to perform in camp. “It's always good to have that other player that matches that level of intensity that you do. So it makes me work just as hard,” Marshall said.

As to the Panthers’ offensive scheme, it is perhaps best described as a hybrid spread. "We're a spread team; we try to go as a fast-paced offense," Church explained. "We also go under center and give a quick pro-style look. I do a lot of catching out of the backfield. I also run the ball of course, so I do a little bit of both of that." Church does a lot of both – last year he rushed for 783 yards and nine touchdowns and caught another 36 passes. Both were team bests.

At times, both Marshall and Church will be on the field for the Panthers. "We've got a few packages where we're both in the backfield in a shotgun and lined up directly next to the quarterback. We've got sets where he's at running back, and I'm at wingback; we’ll throw different things at them,” said Church.

If all goes well, the senior hopes the Panthers will be alive in the FCS playoffs when he dons the cap and gown and graduates in December.

The Panthers posted a 7-1 OVC record last year, 7-5 overall. EIU’s will face Miami (Ohio) on the road in their opener on Saturday.

“We always do a lot of things together with each other. There’s never an issue with race or anything like that — it’s just a real family-like feel. When you establish that you play so well because you’ve earned each others trust,” said Marshall.

Above: Running back Devin Church transferred to EIU from Illinois. (Courtesy Sandy King/EIU Athletics)
Middle: Korliss Marshall transferred to EIU from Arkansas. (Courtesy Sandy King/EIU Athletics)

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