BOGACZYK: Shuler Ready to Catch One More Time
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 20, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
BOCA RATON, Fla. – Three years ago today, Tommy Shuler finished his freshman season in major college football.
The Marshall slot receiver from nearby Miami had one reception for seven yards in Coach Doc Holliday’s first postseason victory, a 20-10 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl triumph over Shuler’s hometown FIU.
That was 290 catches ago for Shuler, who again is back in his home state for a bowl, this time to finish his career for the Conference USA champion Herd (12-1) in the Boca Raton Bowl against Mid-American Conference champ Northern Illinois (11-2) on Tuesday night at FAU Stadium.
“It’s special,” Shuler said Saturday before the Herd’s practice. “Everything that’s happened, I just feel like I’ve been blessed.”
Shuler needs only three receptions in the bowl for a special place in Herd and major-college football history. He has 304 career catches. The Marshall record is 306, belonging to Josh Davis (2001-04).
The guy wearing No. 1 could live up to that numeral.
Davis also is tied with two others at No. 5 in major-college history in receptions, so Shuler can get a “two-fer” with three receptions.
The 5-foot-7, 188-pound Shuler, who at the start of the season had a chance to become the first FBS receiver with three 100-catch seasons, can get there. He’s No. 2 in C-USA history, trailing only the 320 by Houston’s Tyron Carrier (2008-11) – No. 4 in FBS annals.
“It feels great to know I have a chance at that,” Shuler said. “I know all of the hard work I’ve put in, and all the time coaches pushed me in practice to work harder, to do my assignments. What’s also big is we’re here as conference champions.
“That makes it all the more special.”
Shuler convinced his Miami playground and schoolyard buddy, Rakeem Cato, to join him in Herdland – but Shuler has been anything but a caddy for the record-breaking quarterback. They are a very productive pair.
Cato-to-Shuler – with one game remaining – has produced 293 completions for 3,293 yards and 24 touchdowns. And while Shuler’s chance for those three 100-catch years evaporated when converted tight end Devon Johnson’s move to running back gave the Herd more balance and a punishing ground game, the slot receiver is the only three-time all-Conference USA first team pick in Marshall’s 10 league seasons.
Back in 2011, that Beef Bowl reception was only the 14th catch in Shuler’s rookie season. He was no better than No. 2 at slot receiver, behind senior Troy Evans and sometimes Jermain Kelson. He had no starts.
A season later, Shuler set the Marshall single-season record with 110 catches. Last season as a junior, he added 106, matching Mike Barber’s former school mark of 1987. Shuler has 74 this season. With his next catch, Shuler joins Davis as the only receivers in Herd annals with three 75-reception years.
“My freshman year, it was disappointing,” Shuler said Saturday. “It was a big learning experience for me. Really, as I look back, it was just me being childish really, and not knowing when to take and not take coaching. I thought I knew everything – and I acted like that.
“I feel like God set me back in my freshman year to teach me, to let me see everything, to learn what I needed to do. My sophomore year and again in my junior year, I just tried to take in everything … take in coaching and moved my game forward.”
When former NFL receiver Mike Furrey joined Coach Doc Holliday’s staff prior to last season, Shuler jumped at the chance to learn from a guy who had been in “The League.” And back at the start of his senior preseason camp, Furrey was telling people this about Shuler:
“Honestly, I think Tommy can be a lot better than what he has been. 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 … 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 numbers are remarkable. He has 953 receiving yards this season. With 47 more, he’d join Barber as the only Marshall receivers with three 1,000-yard seasons. Shuler’s 24 career TDs rank tied for No. 5 in MU history with Troy Brown and Aaron Dobson.
His 3,378 career yards are only 89 behind Randy Moss’ 3,467 and No. 4 in MU football.
Shuler has caught at least one pass in 40 consecutive games, a streak that began with that Beef Bowl reception. Only five active players have a longer streak. He has at least eight receptions in a game 19 times, and his 19 catches in a 2012 loss at Purdue is the school single-game mark.
“Those things mean a lot to me,” Shuler said, “but what’s more important is that I learned how to play, how to be a leader on this team. My freshman year, I was none of those. After that, I just worked hard and didn’t be selfish.”
Now, Shuler mentors players like the next slot who has picked up steam late this season – freshman Hyleck Foster.
“We came here and wanted to help get Marshall football back where it was before, winning championships,” Shuler said. “We want to help keep it going. We knew it was coming, winning championships while we were here.
“Cato said we were going to win a championship, and Doc, too. And every year here we took a baby step, took a baby step, and we got it done.
“It feels really good knowing we won a lot of games (a 34-18 record to date in four years) and won bowls. We won a (C-USA) championship. And now we get to play one more down here. We want to go out on top.”
Shuler meant the Herd, but he could have been talking about his own career, too.