June 24, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – The summer solstice has brought plenty of warmth to the Marshall football offices in the Shewey Building.
I know what you’re thinking: Athletic Director Mike Hamrick has cut back on the air conditioning.
No, really, it’s about the Thundering Herd’s recruiting effort for the Class of 2014, with eight verbal commitments already in the fold as of today.
By June 20 a year ago, Coach Doc Holliday’s program had only two verbals for the 2013 class. But because the Herd staff got out earlier, the “gets” are coming more often.
“It’s not just six guys,” said Todd Hartley, the Herd’s tight ends coach and first-year recruiting coordinator, before Marshall added two more of its higher-ranked commits Monday. “It’s guys who we feel really good about, guys who were really high on our board.
“They were high enough on our board where we offered them and we were ready to take a commitment, guys we think can be contributors.
“I think it goes back to how much we did in evaluations on the front end, how much earlier a start we had than in the past. It was about how we knew our targets before we went out in the spring, we’d done so much more work before we went out.”
As the staff alternates vacation time over the next five weeks, it’s easily the most “year-ahead” commitments – the eight are from Georgia (4), South Carolina (2) and Florida (2) – this soon in Holliday’s four years heading the Herd.
“When we went out,” Hartley said, “we weren’t going to look for players, we were going to look at players, who we were going to rank where. We had things in place and I think that’s contributed to some great early success for us.
“I’m not saying this is going to an indication of what kind of success we’re going to have – hopefully it is – but it’s the most early commitments we’ve had since Doc’s been here. I think it’s a credit to our staff, getting and forming relationships earlier, getting into the plan, getting targets known earlier and getting out on the road and working these kids right after Signing Day (in early February) instead of waiting until May, after our spring practice.
“It’s a three-month head start over where we were.”
Some of the Herd’s success has been due to a refocusing in recruiting. Florida always has – and will continue to be – a huge state for a program with Holliday. Marshall has four staffers working the Sunshine State.
However, Georgia – where Hartley and running backs coach Thomas Brown as natives who know the territory – and South Carolina have become more prominent in Marshall’s mining for talent.
New receivers coach Mike Furrey is “doing a terrific job in South Carolina,” Hartley said.
And, Hartley agreed – there’s less competition for talent in those states than there is in Florida.
“Georgia is really important for us now, so is South Carolina,” Hartley said. “I don’t have exact numbers, but I’d say the number of Georgia kids we’ve offered has doubled, because we’ve put more time and effort in there. Last year I was in there for a week, where this year I was in there for four weeks.
“Thomas Brown works Atlanta and the northern part of the state. It’s more time there, more concentrated, more effort. It’s probably doubled, if not more than that. That doesn’t mean we spend less time in Florida. We spend just as much time in Florida. We’ve put more time and effort into Georgia, and we’re hitting South Carolina just as hard.”
It also helps to know the geography.
“Everybody wants to go to Florida and recruit, and kids are transient and will leave Florida, but a lot of schools are understandably going to Florida, which is just a credit to the amount of talent in the state,” Hartley said. “There are a lot of schools going to Georgia as well, but they’re going to Atlanta and the surroundings. It takes a lot more time to work other parts of the state.
“You’ve got to work to go to some schools in Georgia. You can go some places in Atlanta and Florida and hit one school and then another in 15 minutes and another in 15 minutes. Some of those central and south Georgia schools, you’re in one school and then you’re an hour from the next one, and you’ve got to drive, and cellphone service may be spotty.
“You’ve got to work to find those kids, which makes it less convenient for coaches, which makes for less competition, which makes it advantageous for us with two people on the staff from down there who know where to go. And it helps to have kids on the roster already from that area, which we do.”
The Herd to date has commitments at five positions – quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, tight end and defensive line. Hartley said the number of commits figures to slow in the “next 3-5 weeks” because of staff vacations, although the Herd keeps two full-timers on hand every week and two others working half-days.
That said, Hartley will be glad to take a commitment via his cellphone on a Georgia beach.
“It helps to get kids on campus,” Hartley said. “Obviously, when we’re not in the office, we don’t have kids on campus. You don’t want to bring them in when no coaches are here.
“But up to now, it seems like we’re getting an unofficial visit if not every day, then every other day, which is phenomenal. We’ve obviously had unofficial visits in the summer before, but not at this rate.
“Again, I think it goes back to how early we got started on this class, how organized we were with who we wanted, how specific we got on who we wanted, and then the effort we put into getting those guys.
“It’s hard to get a kid to say ‘yes’ if he hasn’t been on campus yet. We try to make it a point to get kids in here.”
As the Herd continues to land prospective talent – a verbal isn’t binding, obviously, and it’s a long way until Signing Day in February – Hartley said the recruiting effort will change in style, but not substance.
He said as players commit at the various positions, the Herd staff will alter its pitch.
“We get more specific; we do,” Hartley said. “We start out targeting more players at more positions, but we never stop recruiting those other positions.
“For example, let’s say at the beginning, you had no commitments, so you’re recruiting all the positions really hard, you’re more spread out as far as energy, time and effort. Let’s say you get a quarterback committed; we’re only taking one.
“So, you call the rest of the quarterbacks and say, ‘Hey, we got our guy,’ and we’re not going to be able to take your commitment if you wanted to do that, but I’m still going to stay in contact with you, still going to write you, still going to Facebook you, etc.
“You may not be recruiting them as hard, but you’re still going to stay in touch, because a commitment is not binding, and nothing is official until they step onto campus.”
Hartley said the Herd has moved down the road a bit in its chase for the Class of 2014.
“We still need some offensive linemen; that’s a big need,” he said. “We’ve got one commit right now, probably want 3-4 more, obviously we’re recruiting running backs, and then any of the defensive positions, really.”
In other words, coaches may take vacation, but recruiting doesn’t.