Feb. 6, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – As recruiting years go – and he’s been through more than 30 of them as a college football coach -- it’s been anything by dull for Doc Holliday.
The fourth-year Marshall coach not only had to shore up a roster that was unbalanced after losing only nine seniors and find some major pieces to improve its defense. He also had to retool his staff.
Through it all, the Thundering Herd more than endured. It prospered. And when the 2013 National Signing Day’s efforts were complete Wednesday, Holliday felt “really good about what we were able to accomplish.”
By noon, the Shewey Building football office fax has spit out all except one expected signed National Letter of Intent from a Herd-committed prospect. Holliday sounded a little like Yogi Berra waiting for that one.
“It’s never over ‘til it’s here,” he said.
The final NLI arrived at 12:59 p.m., from wide receiver Justin Hunt of Memphis, Tenn., giving Holliday’s team 29 newcomers, including two Penn State transfers (wideouts Devon Smith and Shawney Kersey) and four new impressive roster additions who sat out in 2012.
“What pleases me the most is we met our needs; we got what we went after,” Holliday said. “And I’m really proud of the staff. It’s a real credit to JaJuan Seider, Todd Hartley, J.C. Price, Gerad Parker, Billy Legg. And (new defensive coordinator) Chuck Heater really helped us with a couple of defensive guys late, after he came on staff.
“We had some staff turnover, which we’ve had every year, and to be able to hang on with all the kids like we did was just great. The staff, the guys who were here, did a super job keeping it together.”
Holliday hired three new assistant coaches in Heater, Anthony Midget and Alex Mirabal, a former FIU offensive line coach whom Holliday said had a hand in the Herd’s signing success by helping land 6-foot-5, 292-pound tackle Sandley Jean-Felix.
He also needed a new strength coach, and hired Scott Sinclair from the UCF staff last month. And even on Signing Day, he lost Midget – just named by the Herd on Jan. 28 – to Penn State’s staff.
He’s still looking for a linebackers coach, and said during a Kindred Communications radio interview Wednesday that he should have one in place early next week. Then, he’ll look for Midget’s replacement.
His three MU offseasons have seen 10 coaching changes (not including five strength coaches in that time) – but the beat goes on for a staff that continues to recruit with significant success.
“No, 1, I think it says Marshall has great tradition,” Holliday said when asked to account for the fact that Marshall’s staff turnover hasn’t diminished Signing Day efforts and success. “It’s a team effort, from Dr. (Stephen) Kopp (MU president and (Athletic Director) Mike Hamrick on down.
“We do a good job academically, and the people who come through this program have had great success (in football) … from Randy Moss to Ahmad Bradshaw to Chad (Pennington) and Byron (Leftwich) and Vinny (Curry) and on.
“And on this campus, when kids visit, they feel the passion that our students, this fan base and community have for this program and what it means. Our coaches do a great job once they’re on campus, along with our support staff and players (the latter in hosting prospects on official visits).
“They give them a feel that this is really where they want to be.”
For those who put stock in recruiting website rankings, Marshall had the best recruiting year, according to Rivals.com, of any school that will play in Conference USA in 2013 and moving forward.
The Herd also has the No. 1 signing class for any non-BCS school, ranking at #49 overall according to coachingsearch.com's composite numbers.
Those rankings include new initial counters -- defensive tackle Josh Brown, linebackers Gary Thompson and Kent Turene and defensive back Corey Tindal, all of whom who came to Marshall last year and sat out the 2012 season. Holliday is high on all of them.
Thirteen of the newcomers hail from Florida, a longtime recruiting home for Holliday and Seider.
Twelve of the 29 on the list are already enrolled and taking classes at MU, meaning if they are eligible, they’ll be able to go through spring practice, giving them “a leg up,” Holliday said, on other signees.
Holliday said the 2013 class didn’t happen “with a whole lot of surprise. We picked up a couple guys we weren’t quite sure we were going to get, so we’re about plus-2 on the day which is unusual in this business. I’m really not sure that’s happened before.”
The two were a pair of safeties/nickel backs – Michael Johnson of Booker T. Washington High in Miami and Tiquan Lang of Port St. Joe, Fla., and Lowndes High in Valdosta, Ga.
Johnson had been committed earlier to Florida State, but Holliday goes way back with the player’s father. Lang was on Temple radar (he visited the Owls) when Heater was still the defensive coordinator there, and Holliday said the new Herd aide “helped a whole bunch” on Lang’s last-ditch recruitment.
The Herd coach also labeled Lang as a “sleeper” in the class when asked for one during his radio interview. His only other FBS offers were Temple and Middle Tennessee State.
“There are no secrets,” Holliday said. “It’s all about relationships and hard work, effort … you’re allowed six contacts in a home or at (the prospect’s school). We take all six.”
The Herd’s new roster names include six offensive linemen, six defensive backs, five linebackers, four wide receivers, three defensive linemen, two running backs and already enrolled quarterback Kevin Anderson, a longtime private pupil of former Herd QB Eric Kresser.
“To me the most important thing was we met our needs,” Holliday said. “We needed to balance some positions and we did. We were looking to sign four or five offensive linemen, and we did that. I’m really happy with what we got there, some extremely tough kids.
“The (Michael) Selby kid, from Georgia, got an offer from Georgia Tech in the last couple of days, and it a tribute to Todd Hartley the job he did there in that situation and the kid that he stuck with us.
“We felt like we needed to sign some safeties; we did. We met our needs at linebacker with Stefan Houston and Neville Hewitt and (Aaron) Plantt, and we ended up getting Arnold Blackmon as a pass-rushing end.
“With the addition of the other guys who are new initials, like Josh Brown, Turene, Tindal and Thompson, we’ve met our needs. We’re ready to go.”
The Herd is scheduled to open 2013 spring practice March 26, with the Green-White spring game on April 27.
The season opener for Holliday’s fourth season is Aug. 31, an Edwards Stadium date against longtime rival Miami of Ohio.
“We’re excited about all of them, and a lot of them are here already,” Holliday said of what he called his best MU recruiting class – on paper. “We’re looking forward to getting the rest of them up here in June.
“There’s no doubt we’re better personnel-wise than we’ve been since I’ve been here.”