Oct. 28, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – There are times when a sports season can turn on a play or two. Sometimes, those seminal moments come when something unique occurs off the field, too.
Perhaps one of those critical turns for Marshall’s 2013 football team came last Thursday night in Murfreesboro, Tenn. And it wasn’t on the field during the Thundering Herd’s last-play, 51-49 loss to Middle Tennessee.
In the visitors’ locker room at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, a very rare occurrence took place. Coach Doc Holliday addressed his team a few minutes after defeat, and then asked if anyone else had anything to say.
Alex Schooler, the Herd’s bearded veteran starting right guard, stood up and spoke up.
That may have been as stunning to the Herd as the final score.
“He told us it’s on us,” said senior defensive end Alex Bazzie, who is one of the more talkative Herd players. “He said it’s not on the coaches. It’s not up to them to keep taking hits.
“When you’ve got a guy like Schooler … he doesn’t talk much around the locker room. He just kind of comes and does what he has to do, goes about his business. When you’ve got a guy like that who can stand up and say, ‘Look, man, it’s not the coaches. It’s us … the players. We’re not going out there and executing.’
“Just to hear that from somebody you know doesn’t say much makes you realize, ‘Whoa, there must be something there.’ He’s not saying that just to talk. He’s not a guy who just likes to hear himself talk, because he hardly talks.
“It was an eye-opener for a lot of us. We looked at him like, ‘Wow, you’re right.”
The 6-foot-7, 303-pound Schooler’s words carry plenty of weight because he’s so economical with his words. He’s also been in the MU program much longer than most of his teammates. He graduated in business management last December, and is now taking courses toward a second degree in marketing.
The redshirt senior is one of only four Marshall players who entered the program with scholarships prior to Holliday’s hire in December 2009.
“It was just a little something I said,” said Schooler, of Wichita, Kan. “The coaches can only do so much. And then we, as players, need to step up and start making more plays. It was just one of the things I had to say.
“I feel like it was a little out of character for me, but I felt like it was something that needed to be said, so I just went ahead and said it … I’m usually not very outspoken. I guess back in high school was the last time I had something like that to say.”
Schooler said none of his teammates said anything about his remarks.
“I think we were all just … I don’t think anything needed to be said after that,” said Schooler, who is expected to make his 14th career start Saturday at noon when Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3) visits the Herd (4-3, 2-1) at Edwards Stadium. ‘We just all tried to focus on ourselves …
“We’re not really worried about that game (Middle Tennessee) right now. We have Southern Miss coming in. We absolutely have to stick together as a team. There’s no pointing fingers. We’re all one team and we’re not going to do that.”
Schooler pointed out that the Herd’s preseason goals – a Conference USA title and bowl game – are still available. And he admitted there’s an urgency for him, as one of the 2013 seniors.
“Of course we want to win we want to try to win out,” Schooler said. “It’s what everyone wants to do, right? Technically, it’s still out there. That’s what we’re all hoping for.”
Schooler and his four fellow offensive line starters – tackles Garrett Scott and Clint Van Horn, left guard Sebastian Johansson and center Chris Jasperse – played every snap at Middle Tennessee. That took first-year line coach Alex Mirabal’s “Five Guys; One Mind” mantra to the extreme.
“I do think we do have a really good group,” Schooler said of a unit that, at times, also has included backup guard Michael Selby and senior tackle Gage Niemeyer. “We have a lot of experience and that always helps and I feel like we have a lot of depth as well.
“I think this is the best line I’ve played on, personally … I just think when we’re not in meetings and working out, we’re hanging out with one another and we have a good time joking around. And we’re all actually pretty close now. I think it’s a pretty tight-knit group and I don’t think a lot of places have had that.”
In his five seasons dating back to Coach Mark Snyder’s 2009 exit, Schooler has played for four offensive line coaches (Mike Cummings, Bill Legg, Geep Wade and Mirabal). He’s tried to take something from all of them.
“It does give you the chance to take something from each one,” the Herd guard said, “and I feel fortunate to have had so many guys coaching me, because I’ve learned so much and everyone has their own things. It just helps you look at things from different angles.”
Schooler said his time at Marshall “has actually flown by. I didn’t think it would go this quickly.” And as he finishes his final season, he wants to make the most of it.
“I’ll go out and see what happens,” Schooler said of life after Marshall. “I’ll definitely look for something out in the business world. I feel like I can help someone out there in some sort of business management.”
A few nights back, he may have significantly helped his team with a few well-timed words.
“It’s his last go-round,” Marshall junior slot receiver Tommy Shuler said of Schooler. “He wants to win, wants to go to a bowl game. I know his time is short. When Alex steps up and speaks, we know it’s time to pick it up.
“We’re tired of saying ‘We could’ve, we should’ve, it was close. We should have done this; they made one more play.’ We can’t get in that predicament. We’ve just to go out and play ball, so we don’t need to go to the last play of the last game. Alex told us it was time to step up.”