BOGACZYK: Doc Fills Prescription with Herd Class of 24
The Word on the Herd-Feb. 3, 2016
2016 Signing Class
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Doc Holliday's seventh National Signing Day at Marshall was pretty typical of the Thundering Herd football coach.
He was kind of like a kid on Christmas morning in that he didn't quite get all that he wanted. OK, the guy known for his recruiting reputation and acumen never does ... but he was happy with the haul.
And like Holliday, the Herd's 24-player signing class was pretty matter-of-fact.
"We're excited," he said. "We got about what we expected. We had certain needs we targeted and I felt that we met those needs. Our coaching staff did a tremendous job going out and getting the players we needed to get this thing done.
"We had five offensive linemen and Alex (Mirabal, line coach) did a great job getting those guys, and every position where we had a need, we filled. Our guys all worked hard, did a great job."
In addition to five offensive linemen, the Herd class includes six defensive backs, two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end and a quarterback - plus two high school signees Holliday had listed as "athlete."
Coming off a third straight season of 10 or more victories - the only program among 61 Group of Five schools with that distinction - and a fourth bowl triumph in five years, the Herd was able to hone in on the personnel it wanted.
Holliday isn't one to compare recruiting classes, but ...
"It's as good as any we've had," said Holliday, who has a 50-28 record in six seasons. "We've had some really good classes in the last several years and this class matches up with any of them - or maybe better than any of them, to be honest.
"I kind of look at it like this: Did we get the opportunity to sign the guys we needed to sign to fill the needs on our football team? And I felt we did that. We did that with really good players.
"We had to get a quarterback. We did. We needed wideouts and the ones we got, I'm excited about. The corner position on defense was a critical position, safety, too. And we got six of those guys who can run."
Three of the announced signees - safeties C.J. Reavis, Jeremiah Maddox and Christopher Jackson - enrolled at MU last month. Reavis is the Herd's only junior college signee, joining 23 high schoolers.
Holliday pointed to a pair of developments in shaping the signing class that was built early and became more star-studded late.
"Kids were loyal," the Herd coach said of a class that had 15 commitments (who eventually signed)by last August. "A lot of kids were committed for a long time, probably two-thirds have been committed since the Purdue game (Marshall's 51-41 season-opening win).
"We brought all of these kids in for the Purdue game and had a tremendous game and atmosphere - and our crowd (a standing-room 38,791) was a big part of that - and we got those guys committed and they stayed committed. With a couple of needs, things we had to meet there at the end, we were fighting hard to get done and for the most part they got done.
"End of the day, we're excited where things are and looking forward to getting them on campus."
The most celebrated of the signees is 6-foot-1, 246-pound outside linebacker Jaquan Yulee of Chesapeake, Va., who decommitted from Alabama and gave the Herd a verbal on Jan. 22.
That opened eyes, Holliday said.
"There are a lot of good ones in this class, but he's a tremendous player," Holliday said. "And I think his commitment helped us with a lot of these other kids. So, we're excited about him -- as we are the other ones."
Nine of the Herd's signees committed after the Yulee flip to Marshall.
The 2015 Herd, which finished 10-3 with a St. Petersburg Bowl victory over Connecticut, played only four true freshmen - a low for Holliday's Marshall years. The four were starting quarterback Chase Litton and three who had bit parts - receivers Nick Mathews and Raylen Elzy and cornerback TJ Griffin.
Holliday said he expects a larger number of rookies on the field in 2016.
"I think we're going to have to play more of them because of our needs," Holliday said. "Defensively, we need corners who can come in and play. Our numbers there (in returning players) are not where they need to be and that's why we recruited the ones we did.
"So, at that position, some young guys will have to come in and play. Also at the receiver position, they'll have to go play. And those are two positions where you can play as young players, and I think we've got enough guys in this class who can help us right away."
The two signees listed with "athlete" as their position included the lone in-state signee, 6-2, 212-pound Cody Mitchell of Point Pleasant.
"He'll probably start out on offense," Holliday said when asked where Mitchell would play. "We like him as a tight end-type. We might take a look at him at running back. He's such a tremendous athlete and he's played so many different places.
"All we know is he's talented player with a lot of athletic ability for as big as he is, and we'll find a place for him. The great thing about Cody is he just loves football and it's important to him. He doesn't care where he plays; he just wants to help us win."
So, he might be another Devon "Rockhead" Johnson, who moved from tight end to running back with a short stay at linebacker?
"Hopefully we can settle on a position for Cody sooner than we did with `Rock,'" Holliday said, smiling. "We'll evaluate that thing over the summer and see where we want to put him."
The other "athlete" is 6-2, 208-pound Xavier Gaines of Frostproof, Fla. He had multiple power conference offers and is regarded as a dual-threat quarterback prospect who threw for 1,290 yards and rushed for 665 more as a Lake Wales High School junior.
With the Herd having only two QB returnees in Litton and rising senior Michael Birdsong to be joined by 6-3 signee Garet Morrell of Leesburg, Ga., Gaines' presence could be a factor behind center.
"Gaines is an `athlete' at this point and a tremendous one," Holliday said. "He can play a lot of places and he's going to give us a lot of flexibility."
The Marshall coach said one returning walk-on also has been placed on scholarship -- Chase Hancock of Daniels and Beckley's Woodrow Wilson High. He was No. 2 behind 2015 senior DJ Hunter at strongside linebacker last season, making 18 tackles in 13 games.
Asked if there were a position or side of the ball where he'd hoped the Herd would land a couple more recruits, Holliday spoke like the talent bird dog he's been for more than three decades.
"Hey, I'd like to get one or two more at all spots," Holliday said. "Unfortunately, I only get 25 initials. That being said, I felt we met the needs we had in the program. And we'll continue to recruit from now until August and see if we can find another player or two. You never stop, but you get 25 at this point and you've got to stop there.
"Our goals and standards here are extremely high. We're never satisfied with anything. We always continue to strive to get better and better at everything we do. And every time you lose one or two kids, it's disappointing. So, you try to go back and do better next year so that doesn't happen.
"But it's a good day for us. We're excited."
The Herd opens spring practice March 29, pointing toward the April 30 Green-White spring game.