BOGACZYK: Shuler Wants a Title to Go with Third `100'
The Word on the Herd-August 4, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As Marshall football began its 2014 preseason camp Monday, Tommy Shuler has a singular achievement among his teammates, and also among every player in major college football.
He knows that, but the senior wide receiver from Miami won’t dwell on it.
And among the players on all 128 FBS teams, Shuler is the only one with a chance to become the first player in major college history with three seasons of 100 receptions. The other seven with two no longer play collegiately.
“If he has a great year, he could finish up as the first receiver in the history of college football to have three back-to-back-to-back 100-catch seasons,” Herd Coach Doc Holliday said last week. “He’s matured, he’s come along and he’s a tremendous, tremendous player.
“He has that ‘it’ factor that you talk about all the time with a guy. He finds a way to make plays.”
Whether the Herd’s No. 1 can get to 100 is only a subplot to a season in which Marshall is an overwhelming pick for its first C-USA title, perhaps an unbeaten season and maybe a prominent bowl like the Peach or Cotton to go with it.
The 21-yard Shuler is fine not being the big focus. And with the loss of productive tight end Gator Hoskins – now in the Miami Dolphins’ training camp – the Herd’s slot receiver could get even more defensive attention than last season, when he was regularly doubled or bracketed.
“This year, my last year, I just want to finish a lot, and I want to help us win a championship,” Shuler said Sunday after the Herd reported for camp. “I want to help the new guys coming in as freshmen, help them learn more about football and stay positive about every situation. I still have things to learn, too.
“The hardest thing for me was knowing when there is bracketing by the defense, just finishing the play. The defender could fall, could leave an opening for me. I’ve got to work with that. I want to help those outside (receivers) understand football more, and help them catch more balls.
“The more they catch, the more open we’ll all be.”
Mike Furrey, the seven-year NFL alumnus who is the Herd receivers coach, said “confidence” is Shuler’s biggest weapon. And although Shuler had a Marshall single-season record 110 catches in 2012 and another 106 last season, Furrey sees more possibilities for the 5-foot-7, 188-pounder.
“Honestly, I think Tommy can be a lot better than what he has been,” Furrey said. ‘When you look at Tommy, he has intangibles that are gifts. He can catch the ball; he’s real natural. He has great knowledge for the game and love of the game. He understands where he’s supposed to be and how to get there.
“But all in all, you can always get better, and I think he knows getting in better shape, getting faster, getting quicker, continuing to gain more knowledge of the game are all things he can do. He needs to prepare for the next level, not just this level. He knows what he needs to continue to keep growing as a receiver.
“And you never stop learning the game until the day you retire or whatnot, and you’re not around it every day. All in all, he’s got a lot to learn still, and he is learning and he’s got a lot to get better at … which is pretty dangerous if you think about it.”
Shuler’s long relationship with Cato – they became schoolyard buddies in Miami when they were 6 – has helped both players prosper, too. Of Shuler’s 230 career catches Marshall, 219 were Cato passes.
Cato and Shuler have combined for 2,340 air yards and 16 touchdowns – 10 of those last season.
“It’s a great advantage being friends and having played so much together,” said Shuler, who helped coax Cato to come to Marshall after they starred at Miami Central High. “He knows when I’m going to pop open. I know where to go so he can find me. Whether to put the ball in front of me, or put it behind me, he knows how I’ll react when something happens.
“It’s just teamwork. We work on a lot of things together, have done that for a long time. It’s all about us helping the team win and go undefeated.”
Shuler needs 77 receptions to surpass Josh Davis’ Herd career record of 306. And if the Herd’s inside receiver can reach the 1,165 yards he totaled in 14 games last season, he’ll rank in the top four in receiving yards in MU history. He also would join college Football Hall of Famer Mike Barber as the only players in Herd annals with three 1,100-yard seasons.
Shuler also ranks third nationally among active players with 26 games of at least two pass receptions. He’s caught at least eight passes in 15 of those 26 games, too.
So, can he reach 100 catches again, becoming the only player in major college history with three of those seasons? There have been 86 seasons of 100 catches by 78 FBS players.
“I want it bad,” Shuler said, smiling, “but I won’t think about it. I’ll just let it come to me. When I get into a game, I just need to catch every ball I can catch. And if it comes to me, I need to make sure I can get a catch.
“And that’s how it adds up at the end of the season. When we get to the conference championship game or a bowl game, that’s when I look at the numbers.”
Prior to Shuler’s sophomore season (2012), his grandfather, Freddie Walker, told the receiver that he should have a goal of 100 receptions that year. Shuler – after catching only 14 balls as a true freshman – thought that “crazy” at the time, but he used the grandfatherly notion as impetus.
Then, after Shuler set the school mark with 110 in 12 games in 2012, it looked last season like he might not be able to reach triple digits again. He had 49 catches in the first seven games.
“It’s kind of funny,” Shuler said. “My grandfather called me during the middle of the season and said, ‘Man, what’s wrong?’ And I was figuring he’s just joking with me. And he says, ‘You’re not going to catch the hundred this year.’ And I’m like, ‘I sure can.’
“Then, before every game, he’d text me and say, ‘You can do it,’ encouraging me, try to catch everything that comes your way. And I got to 100 and I’m just thankful to have him backing me, pushing me. Coach Furrey is pushing me and all these teammates are pushing me.”
Shuler got his 100, finishing with 106 thanks to a nine-reception day as Marshall downed Maryland in the Military Bowl. He had 57 catches in the last seven games.
Shuler has the Herd’s C-USA title hopes and unbeaten season as goals, not to mention a third season of 100 receptions. Complacency won’t be an issue, because even if he would think about it, someone else won’t.
“Coach Furrey means everything to me,” Shuler said. “He’s helped me so much. It’s not just football, but off the field, too. When we go make visits to hospitals (Shuler is a weekly participant in those Baskets of Hope trips), go see sick kids, I learn. Coach Furrey and I go to elementary schools to visit kids, and interacting there helps me become a better person.
“Then, on the football field, Coach Furrey just turns on the switch. He’s helped me learn defenses, helped me learn to get open, most things I need to do. He’s always my critic. He always tells me the bad things I do, never the good things, but I need that a lot, and I feel that’s helping me strive to be the best I can be.”
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Lining them up to start camp
The 2014 two- and three-deep (and more in some spots) Marshall football roster as August camp began, as provided by Thundering Herd coaches:
WR (z) – 81 Craig Wilkins, 15 Angelo Jean-Louis, 82 Emanuel Beal
LT – 71 Sebastian Johansson, 74 AJ Addison, 79 Fred Binot
DE – 40 Ra’Shawde Myers, 73 Joe Massaquoi
KR – 19 Deandre Reaves, 15 Angelo Jean-Louis