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BOGACZYK: Mirabal Stretches ‘Five Guys, One Mind’ Mantra

Alex Mirabal
Nov. 11, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK
HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. –
To say Alex Mirabal is an avid runner would be an understatement the size of 6-foot-5, 317-pound left tackle Sandley Jean-Felix.

Mirabal runs 6 miles each day – during his lunch break from Marshall football assistant coaching duties. However, in the last 2 1/2 months, it’s got to feel like the 5-foot-4 offensive line coach is doing a marathon every Saturday.

Mirabal’s mantra for his offensive line room is ‘Five Guys, One Mind.’ It’s about communication, cohesion, teamwork, selflessness. Then, as the Herd (8-2, 5-1) prepares to meet Mirabal’s alma mater – FIU – on Saturday, the reality is Marshall’s “big ‘uns” have been more like ‘Two Times Five Guys, One Mind.’

Mirabal has played 10 linemen -- four at right tackle, three at right guard and two at left tackle due to injuries. Maybe the Floridian should go into quilting. He’s gotten very familiar with patchwork in his third season on Coach Doc Holliday’s staff.

All-Conference USA senior Clint Van Horn has been on the field only 10 quarters before shutting it down. Redshirt freshman guard Nate Devers – who started the opener – was out for a month. In last Saturday’s loss at Middle Tennessee, Jean-Felix left in the second overtime. All have missed time due to injury and Mirabal said starting right guard Jordan Dowrey is playing through another ailment himself.

“I’ve learned the most important ‘ability’ is availability,” Mirabal said Tuesday.

 

 

Jean-Felix could return against FIU, and AJ Addison and Fedrice “Fred” Binot will continue to share the right tackle spot. Cody Collins will still fill in for Dowrey on some series … and Mirabal will cross his fingers that no one else limps off against the Panthers.

“Obviously, when you lose a Clinton Van Horn, I tried to get two guys (Tom Collins and Addison first, then Addison and Binot) to replace one,” Mirabal said. “And sometimes it takes that. It takes two guys to play right guard for us right now.

“It’s not because a guy’s not capable, because I think Jordan Dowrey is one of the best interior linemen in this conference. But he has an issue that doesn’t allow him to go every snap. So, Jordan plays 86 and Cody Collins plays the rest. There’s no need to play Jordan all 111 because of Cody and Jordan together allows us to have one guy.

“When you lose a guy like Van Horn, you don’t replace a guy like that, but you try to make sure you’re adequate enough where you can function as a team. A lot of times, like against Middle Tennessee, you didn’t notice Addison, didn’t notice Binot, didn’t notice Sandley. And that’s a good thing. When an offensive lineman gets noticed, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. Those guys are doing their jobs, filling in more than adequately.”

And that goes back to that five-and-one mantra.

“That whole ‘five men, one mind’ is really the entire room,” Mirabal said. “We have 15 or 16 guys in that room and they’re all part of that five guys one mind. And obviously, it’s defined by those guys on the field, the ones out there playing, but you come to practice, first group, five guys, second group, five guys one mind.

“It’s five, but it’s all of us. It’s the mentality about being selfless. When you walk into that room, you’re the least important person in the room. I’m the least important person in that room. That’s been our thing since I got here (to the Herd staff) on Feb. 3, 2013.

“It’s our language, how we communicate up front, on the same page – that kind of stuff. That foundation of being selfless, of being the least important person, of the communication, it’s what allows you -- when a guy goes down -- to go next man up. That next man knows the language, the culture, the techniques, which are transferrable to all three (line) spots.”

Junior center Michael Selby and senior left guard Sebastian “Swede” Johansson have provided Mirabal “rock-solid,” as did Jean-Felix until he left the game at Middle – a game the line coach and Selby agreed was the best the front men have played as a unit.

“No doubt, no doubt, and it’s all starting to come together,” Mirabal said. “Earlier, we were getting punched in the mouth, bloodied our nose, got shiners and now we’re starting to do those things to other people. We’re not last year’s line, but this isn’t last year. And we’ve played some tough (defensive) fronts. Better than last year, no question in my mind. I don’t have (Chris) Jasperse, don’t have (Trevor) Mendelson, don’t have (Blake) Brooks, don’t have Van Horn. Those guys have been through it for several years.

“These guys, now, have learned. They’re starting to fight back. Sandley, what a tremendous game he played the other night, the best game he’s played, 107 snaps. He wanted to go back in, but my thing was I’ve never seen Sandley hurt to the point where he’s had to practice hurt or play hurt, so I don’t know how he’s going to react.

“He’s a tough guy. But I had Addison and Binot sharing right, so I had Freddy move over to left tackle (for the third OT). Fred played four (snaps) at left tackle. Addison played 46 at right, Binot played 69 total, 65 on the left side.

“Last week in practice, Fred didn’t take one snap at right tackle. But because of the language, the communication, it allows us to do that. You have guys like Selby, Swede, they played 111 snaps (counting plays canceled by penalties). They allow you to get that communication done, to get those other guys on the same page, and then we go.”

Van Horn made the first two right tackle starts this season, then was injured and missed two games. He returned Oct. 3 in the league opener against Old Dominion, was reinjured and hasn’t been back. Another potential backup is gone, too. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Combs has had to give up the sport due to a career-ending injury.

“Tyler was basically told by doctors, ‘You’re now starting to affect your standard of living,’” Mirabal said. “That’s something you don’t want to mess with. He’s done with football. It’s quality of life.”

Mirabal said he’s “almost ashamed to admit it,” but when Van Horn was sidelined, he “looked at Tom Collins and Addison and Binot as Band-Aids at right tackle. Before Southern Miss (Oct. 9), I originally wanted to move Sandley to right tackle and Swede from guard to left tackle (where he played early last season), and put Cody at left guard.

“Then I talked to Doc and Bill (Legg, offensive coordinator) about it, and we kind of decided that Sandley had done so well playing next to a veteran like Swede, and it wouldn’t have been best to break that up.”

If the Herd downs FIU (5-5, 3-3) on Senior Day at Edwards Stadium, Holliday’s team goes to Western Kentucky (8-2, 6-0) on Thanksgiving Friday with a C-USA Championship Game spot in the balance – with the Herd trying to become the first C-USA team to play in three straight title games.

Whatever happens, Marshall will play in a bowl for a third straight season and fourth time in five years. So, Mirabal will be coaching to get his battered group through these final weeks.

“I’ve been very proud of this group, very proud, just because of the adversity they’ve overcome on and off the field,” Mirabal said. “Cody Collins’ father passed away during Kent State game; Cody found about it after the game. The very next week, Cody comes back on Friday and Friday night at the team hotel, we’re about to play ODU, and Nate Devers finds out his father had passed away.

“And then a week later, Freddy Binot’s aunt – she helped raise him – she passed way. That all goes for the group mentality. The five men, one mind, we’re all here to take care of one another and look after one another.”

Mirabal has a plan “should something else collapse” on the injury front. He doesn’t want it to include 6-4, 275-pound true freshman guard/center Levi Brown, who has redshirted this season but made the travel squad as a precautionary measure.

“If we need another (guy) now, on the interior it’s Devers,” Mirabal said. “When Nate came back he was ready to play, but others had stepped in and done the job. At exterior (tackle), it’s Tom Collins. Obviously, Levi practices with us and travels to road games – every one – but I will not, unless the roof caves in, use him. I’m not going to pull his redshirt. I’m not going to do that to him.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got a Swede, playing the best football he’s played, and he’s a redshirt senior. Van Horn was the same. Next year, we’ll kick ourselves because of Selby. Even though he played over 150 snaps as a true freshman (in 2013), that extra year as an offensive lineman really means a lot. So, unless everything collapses, you don’t want to do that to Levi.”

One thing is for certain – Mirabal isn’t running away from the situation.

“We’ve kind of been patchwork, but offensively, that’s kind of who we are, I just say keep battling and grinding. (Hall of Fame Coach) Chuck Noll had a great quote: ‘Good things happen to those who battle.’ I know people on the outside have difficulty embracing it, but it’s kind of who we’ve been as a team this year – kind of battling and grinding.

“That’s us. Until this point in time, what we are has mostly given us an opportunity at the end of the game to win it. I tell our guys, ‘It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says as long as we have one more point. It doesn’t matter if you beat them by 20 or by one, the key is to put ourselves in position at the end of the game to win it.’

“And we’ve done that to date. We haven’t been successful in two of them, but we’ve been successful in eight.”

Marshall’s offensive linemen, with their most common position, and snaps played in 2015:
Total snaps-798
Michael Selby, C-795
Sandley Jean-Felix, T-781
Sebastian Johansson, G-752
Jordan Dowrey, G-458
AJ Addison, T -369
Cody Collins, G-304
Clint Van Horn, T-176
Fedrice Binot, T-158
Tom Collins, T-125
Nate Devers, G-94

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