Feb. 5, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall University’s veteran football coach has been at this recruiting game so long, perhaps the annual Signing Day should be declared a “national Holliday.”
Coach Doc Holliday, known through his long coaching career for his recruiting acumen, was able to smile Wednesday after another early February signing day.
With apologies to Punxsutawney Phil, there are no six more weeks of worry for the Herd head honcho.
Really, it is a bit like a real holiday, as anxious coaches hang around a humming fax machine, waiting for signed National Letters of Intent to roll in, kind of like kids would wait around the Christmas tree for gifts to be handed out.
The first “present” was a very large “get.” It was Massillon, Ohio, offensive lineman Nate Devers, a late switch from a Cincinnati commitment to the Herd. His papers arrived and were approved at 7:18 a.m.
This time, Doc pretty much got what he ordered – again.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s as good of a class as we signed here,” Holliday said. “And I wouldn’t trade this class for anybody else’s. I’m glad we got ‘em.”
The Herd announced 26 high school, prep school and junior college recruits on Wednesday. That number includes four players who enrolled earlier this semester.
Rivals.com ranks Marshall's 2014 recruiting class, which features 15 players from Florida and Georgia, as the top class in Conference USA by a wide margin.
Marshall landed 11 three-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. No other C-USA school (2014 membership) had more than four.
Holliday pointed out that in addition to the new class, Marshall has added two FBS transfers who sat out at MU last season – sophomore cornerback Donaldven Manning (Virginia Tech) and junior defensive lineman Ricardo Williams (Miami, Fla.).
Holliday also said rising sophomore kicker Amoreto Curraj
, whose 52 touchbacks in 2013 were a Marshall school record, also would go on scholarship.
“I thought our coaches did a tremendous job,” Holliday said Wednesday of the recruiting effort by a staff that remains intact from the 10-4 season and Military Bowl victory in 2013. “Coach (Todd) Hartley did a great job coordinating everything, and all of our coaches worked hard at it and I think we met our needs.”
“We talked about needing one at the quarterback and we got a good one in Cole Garvin out of Georgia,” Holliday said. “He’s been enrolled since last month and will go through spring practice, which is huge for us and him. We got the guy we wanted.
“We felt like we got our offensive line in order. We were able to pick up the Devers kid at the end, which was huge, and to be able to sign five is good. A.J. Addison, a prep school kid with a good upside, already is here, too.
“Go to the wideouts … we felt like a Hyleck Foster, Emanuel Beal, “Gator” Green, those kids are exceptional prospects that had other good offers and chose us. When you add that to the kids we already have here on campus, we accomplished what we wanted there.”
The Herd defense, which was greatly improved under first-year coordinator Chuck Heater in 2013, has eight starters back in 2014, but got plenty of new blood, too.
“We went in wanting and needing to get some defensive linemen and we did that,” Holliday said. “We signed a couple of linebackers who can run and continue to give us that athleticism on the second level. And with all the nickel and dime stuff we’re having to get into, we felt like we needed to sign multiple corners, and we met our needs there.”
Holliday, asked if the just-completed season – in which the Herd made its first C-USA Championship Game appearance and downed a power conference team in the Military Bowl – made a difference. Or, would that impact show more in the 2015 class to follow.
“I don’t think there’s any question it had an impact, and that will be reflected next year, too -- and we already started on next year today.” Holliday said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt it may have gotten us over the hump.
“We had several kids who decommited from really good programs to come here, and they came here because they want to be part of a team that plays for championships and plays in nice bowl games … does the things we are accomplishing right now. So I don’t think there’s any doubt winning 10 and winning the bowl over Maryland helped us at the end with a couple of kids.”
The Herd got 10 commitments after the bowl victory, six of those from three-star prospects according to Rivals.com. Marshall signed 11 three-star prospects by Rivals. No other C-USA member for 2014 had more than four of those.
Holliday said the receiving corps also will be bolstered by the eligibility of 2013 signees Angelo-Jean Louis and DeonTay McManus.
“Those guys will be ready to go in spring ball,” Holliday said. “Angelo gives us another quality wideout, and we’re going to play McManus like we used Gator Hoskins – in the slot, flex him out some, bring him in tight, put him at fullback, an H-back.”
In the 2013 season, Marshall used nine players from last year’s signing class – three junior college recruits (defensive end Arnold Blackmon, linebacker Neville Hewitt and safety Taj Letman) and six true freshmen (wideouts Justin Hunt and Josh Knight; linebacker Stefan Houston; cornerback Michael Johnson; safety Tiquan Lang; and offensive lineman Michael Selby). Curraj was the seventh true freshman to play as a walk-on.
Trying to pin down Holliday on the top “gets” in the 2014 signing class? Remember, he was a state champion wrestler at Hurricane High School in the mid-‘70s.
“Hey, I like ‘em all,” Holliday said, grinning. “Really though, Nate Devers on the offensive line … Bill (Legg, offensive coordinator who recruits Ohio) did a great job to pull him out of Massillon, a big-time program in Ohio, such a tremendous school. To get someone from a well-known program like that, with the toughness he brings, it sends a message that we can do that. It was huge right at the end to get him.
“(Safety) Kendall Gant is huge, a big-time player (originally committed to Georgia) that we’re extremely excited about. Cole Garvin is the QB we wanted from Day 1.
“Overall, we got a lot of speed. Hyleck Foster, a receiver, (wideouts coach) Mike Furrey did a tremendous job getting him out of South Carolina. We battled a lot of real good people for a lot of these kids and we ended up winning in the end, which is a tribute to not only our program but our coaches out there working hard at it.”
There also is a notion that cornerback Quantavious Knight might be the “steal” of the class. He’s a junior college signee from Georgia Military College, the same school that sent Hewitt to the Herd linebacker corps in 2013. Hewitt finished the season ranked second in tackles among the Herd.
Knight had offers from seven power-conference schools.
“‘Q’ Knight … he’s a guy we expect to come in and play right away, like Hewitt did,” Holliday said. “He’s a talented guy who had some SEC offers … a very good player.”
Hartley, besides his role as recruiting coordinator, was the lead recruiter for six Georgia signees. Defensive tackles coach J.C. Price, who recruits Virginia, Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area also had a hand in six signees.
The Herd picked up one late name in three-star linebacker/tight end prospect Kaleb Harris of Norwayne (Ohio) High. He had committed to Cincinnati last summer.
“(Linebackers coach) Adam Fuller went into the Tampa area, Hillsborough County, and there are a lot of good kids there,” Holliday said. “Adam got two of the better players, (linebackers) Maurice Hall and Frankie Hernandez. That’s big for us to have a good presence there.
“And I’m really excited about what’s happening in Georgia with the kids we’re getting out of there, really good players, well-coached guys who can play early. Todd and (running backs coach and Atlanta area recruiter) Thomas Brown did a great job down there for us.
“Bottom line, like I said, I wouldn’t trade this class for anybody’s else’s.