Chuck Landon: For Shuler, road trip is business all the way
Some players lounge in their hotel bed watching television.
Others play video games.
And some even get massages.
Those are the various routines for Marshall's football players at the team hotel on Friday nights before games.
Except for Tommy Shuler.
On Friday night, the sophomore wide receiver is already in pregame mode. So, while his teammates rest and relax, Shuler is busy doing homework.
For his next class?
No, for his next opponent.
Shuler's nose is in his laptop, watching videotape he has downloaded of the opposing defense he will be trying to beat the very next day.
"When we're at the hotel on Fridays," said Shuler, "like, people will be getting massages and I just take the laptop and look at film. I watch what they do.
"I do that when we go to the hotel. Instead of watching television or playing video games, I just look at film. I look at the little stuff. I put myself in their shoes. I'll think, 'Well, he could have done this.' And, then, I'll think, 'OK, I think I need to do that.' "
Then, on Saturday mornings Shuler meets with Marshall's quarterback Rakeem Cato to share what he has learned.
"When I wake up in the morning," said Shuler, "I'll go downstairs and me and Cato will get together. And I'll tell him, 'I think this is going to work.'
"I just tell Cato, 'That's probably going to be open. He's probably just got one hitch on that and you probably just have to throw on that.'
"So, then, we go out in the game and just perfect it. I say, 'Remember what I told you. That's going to be open all day.' Then, after the first drive, Cato will say, 'That's probably going to work.' "
That will be the case again this Friday after Marshall's flight arrives in Gulfport, Miss., and, then, the Herd rides 81 miles on buses before checking in at the team hotel in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Then, the Saturday morning ritual will be reprised by Shuler and Cato before the Herd takes on Southern Miss at 7 p.m. at Roberts Stadium, aka "The Rock."
Now, isn't it slightly easier to understand how a little 5-foot-8, 180-pound slot receiver can rank No. 2 in the nation in receptions with 58?
It's because Shuler puts in the time and work ... even on Friday nights.
That's also why the sophomore goes into the Southern Miss game as the Conference USA leader in receptions per game (9.7) and receiving yards per game (93.7).
"The film helps me every day because we watch film every day," explains Shuler. "So, when I go to the hotel I put all the film on my laptop."
So, what's he going to see Friday night? Some Southern Miss coverages that are going to make his eyes and feet dance.
"They played a lot of corners," said Cato, after watching the Golden Eagles' 38-31 double overtime loss to UCF. "They played some man. We have to take advantage of those shots. They played a lot of man.
"UCF stuffed the box and was running the ball with three tight ends, so Southern Miss was playing man on the outside. We've just got to take advantage of that.
"We want to see that."
Besides freeing up Shuler for his underneath routes, man coverage would allow Aaron Dobson to stretch the Southern Miss defense and, perhaps, catch some deep balls.
But it all starts on Friday night in Tommy Shuler's hotel room.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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