March 4, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – “Recruiting is all relationships.”
If that sounds like Marshall’s Doc Holliday – it’s an oft-repeated remark by a veteran known for his acumen in landing football talent – it isn’t.
It came from the across the hall from the head ball coach’s office in the Shewey Building … and it wasn’t just an echo.
J.C. Price proved he had what Holliday wanted, too, when the Thundering Herd coach hired the former Virginia Tech star from James Madison 11 months ago as defensive line coach.
Price landed three of the biggest fish in Marshall’s heralded 2013 recruiting class, getting linebacker Stefan Houston and wideouts Deontay McManus and Angelo Jean-Louis from Fork Union Military Academy’s prep school program.
Not only did Holliday notice -- and mentioned Price’s effort to the media on Signing Day -- but more recently Rivals.com named Price among 10 top “non-Big Six conference recruiters” for that work at FUMA with players who originally were ticketed for Maryland, Miami and West Virginia.
Rivals said: “Price knows that his school can benefit from giving talented players a second chance, and he is as good at selling that talking point as any coach in America…The talent upgrade is thanks, in large part, to Price's creativity.”
When Holliday hired Price, who had spent eight years on the staff at JMU, some in the Thundering Herd nation seemed to wonder about the length the former All-American third team defensive tackle had spent at an FCS program without moving up.
Holliday knew who and what he was getting. He recalled Price from his high school days in Dunkirk, Md. (when Holliday was a WVU assistant in the early ‘90s) and at Tech. When Fred Tate left the staff for Texas Tech, Price’s name already had been suggested to Holliday, who talked to Hokies longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster – “one of the people I trust in this business,” Holliday said -- about Price, too.
As for the other side of the equation, Price said the chance to work for Holliday was compelling. And now that the Herd has had a dizzying seven coaching changes this offseason, Price, 40, is in the top half in staff seniority.
“It’s actually crazy I’m one of the veterans here now,” Price said. “I was surprised some of the different guys left, but it’s a decision for each individual. To me, this is a great place, a place I’ve always known about.
“My whole thing is, I want to be here. I was at James Madison eight years, and basically I didn’t have the opportunity, or it wasn’t the right opportunity. I just wasn’t going to move (to be moving). JMU is a pretty darn good job, and there was only going to be one of a couple places that would have called and I’d have interviewed. Marshall happened to be one of them.”
Asked if anything has surprised him in his 11 months about working for Holliday, Price said “yes and no,” and then explained.
“You hear about things, but you don’t know,” Price said. “The thing Doc does, the thing I was really excited about learning from him and I have, was just how detailed and how aggressive he is in recruiting. You heard stories about what a great recruiter he was. His name is legendary in that.
“The way we recruit here is just different, even to what we did when I was at Tech (as a graduate assistant a decade ago). It’s the things we do. Here, we really kind of have a recruiting department. Schools might have a recruiting coordinator, but they don’t have 2-3 guys in the building, who all they do is recruit all day.
“The letter-writing … I was shocked to see the number of letters we put out … hand-written, yes. During the season, each coach writes about 10 before every staff meeting so it’s a bunch, and it’s a great thing. You can’t underestimate the importance of a mama walking to that mailbox and getting mail from a school.
“And Doc always says we want to mail it to the house; we don’t want to mail it to the coach. He wants mama to go to the mailbox and open it and see that envelope.”
Holliday said he teases Price “all the time” about being “the second best athlete in his house” because Price’s wife, Jenny (maiden name Root), remains one of the Hokies’ top five career scorers and rebounders in women’s basketball almost two decades after getting her civil engineering degree.
Price, a 1995 third-round NFL Draft pick whose pro career was derailed by recurring major back problems, will take the jabbing, because he said Holliday has given him a revised territory that includes all of Maryland and the Richmond and talent-rich Hampton Roads/Tidewater side of Virginia.
“I wanted that,” he said. “I recruited Richmond when I was at JMU, and I know a lot of coaches in the 757 (area code of Tidewater).”
Price starred for the Hokies, bursting into national attention with a four-sack game in 1995 against Miami. That season ended with Tech getting its first traditional New Year’s Day bowl win, a rout of No. 9 Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Longtime Frank Beamer aide John Ballein still recalls Price’s impact on that game.
“We were practicing at Tulane and had just finished our regular Wednesday practice,” Ballein said. “J.C. called the entire team up and said the partying was over. It was now time to get your minds on Texas. He said there would be no more Bourbon Street.
“Coming from the guy who could probably be a Bourbon Street regular, it had an impact. Every time I see his picture holding the lunchpail (Tech’s blue-collar defense emblem) on the mural in our memorabilia area, I remember him calling the team up.”
Reminded of that game, Price chuckled and said, “Yeah, and everybody now thinks football started there in 1999 (when Michael Vick quarterbacked Tech to the national title game in the Sugar Bowl).”
Holliday said that the Herd knew of McManus and Jean-Louis at FUMA, but Houston wasn’t on the Marshall radar until “the combine up there every year where college coaches come in and watch guys working out. Stefan is a guy who caught J.C.’s eye. He’d signed with Maryland. J.C. did great job of staying with it and following up.”
Price said the Rivals.com attention isn’t a big deal to him. While MU recruiting coordinator JaJuan Seider had previous south Florida contact with Jean-Louis, Price knew McManus from recruiting the receiver at Baltimore Dunbar for JMU “before Deontay went big-time.” Price also recruited Texas junior college rush end Arnold Blackmon this year.
Recruiting prep school players isn’t just effort. It’s know-how, and “know-who.” And Price has a solid relationship with longtime Fork Union prep Coach John Shuman.
“A lot of it depends on the kid,” Price said when asked to explain how recruiting prep school prospects is different. “There are some guys there who haven’t been placed by other schools, then those guys are just like high school players. Take McManus, Angelo and Stefan, they were all placed there by another school and a prep school won’t let you start recruiting them if they’re going to hold strong to the commitment, either the kid or the school.
“But if one or other decides to renege on it, then they open it up. When that happens, it goes back to who the schools have a relationship with and I knew pretty quickly about all those guys getting cut loose by their former schools. And Angelo was JaJuan as much as it was me.
“The prep school usually guards against other schools coming in, because the prep school wants good players so they want those players placed there by the BCS schools, so they’re not going to cut their own throats by letting us come in and recruit under their nose. When you place a kid, it’s kind of understood the prep school is going to protect that investment, until it goes away.”
When that happened with Houston, McManus and Jean-Louis, Price was in the game. He said the January enrollment by the trio was a plus for the players, too.
“Anybody who goes to a prep school situation… Prep school is not easy, it’s not supposed to be easy,” Price said. “They’re there for a reason and kids usually don’t enjoy that reason why they’re there, so they’re anxious to get out.
“They want to be part of something, and when you think your life is going in one direction and all of a sudden you end up at a prep school and you think you already should have been enrolled in a college, and then that college disappears, then they’re looking for a home pretty quick.”
Then, it was about those relationships, again.
“In the case of Angelo and McManus, it was a pre-existing relationship,” Price said. “JaJuan had talked to Angelo in high school and I knew Deontay. That’s what helped us with those two guys and the pre-existing relationship I had with Fork Union and John Shuman helped us land Stefan, because the day that Maryland dropped him, I got a phone call. I had asked if this guy was going to be available before. I had gone there, watched film and recruited, but you knew who wasn’t available. As soon as he was, we had a chance.
“Recruiting is all relationships. That’s what it always comes down to, relationships with the kids, relationships with the high school coaches, relationships with the prep schools.”
Holliday appreciates Price’s work ethic.
“I’m here,” Price said. “Wherever I coach, I’ll coach the hell out of ‘em.”