Shuler's perfect circle
Marshall University football team playmaker Tommy Shuler has evolved into one of the top wide receivers in the country in the last two years.
He isn’t the biggest. He’s not the fastest. And he’s certainly not the prototype.
What he looks like, though, is a natural at the position.
It’s ironic considering Shuler’s past in sports, though.
Growing up in Miami, Fla., the wide receiver position was not Shuler’s first position in football and football wasn’t even his favorite sport.
It’s all part of the behind-the-scenes makeup of Shuler that makes him as intriguing off the field as he is when on it for the Thundering Herd.
His first love
It would almost seem hard to believe, but when Shuler entered the world of sports as a youngster in Miami, it was not on a football field.
Shuler first started playing baseball at the age of five, and it was a sport that ran deep in his family. Shuler’s uncle, who was eight years older than him, played baseball and set the example while his grandfather was the assistant coach for his team.
“Watching him play and seeing their love of the game, that became my first sport,” Shuler said. “I loved everything about it.”
Shuler was a shortstop and center-fielder, depending on whether the opposition was a power-hitting team or more of a ground-ball hitting team.
Regardless, the coaches wanted Shuler in position where he was going to be around the ball as much as possible.
“Heading into travel ball, I loved to play shortstop because I loved to be involved on the infield,” Shuler said. “Teams with big hitters, I’d go into the outfield. I loved to dive for balls and make great catches.”
That final part rings true to this day, even though Shuler has transitioned into another sport.
Momma knows best
As a kid, Shuler really didn’t have any feelings toward football.
His focus was on baseball, but his mother took him to the football field based on the hunch that she thought he would be pretty good.
It turns out, she was right.
Shuler recalls the first day when his mother took him to the football field to try him out.
“Baseball is all I wanted to play every day,” he said. “I didn’t even like contact, to tell you the truth. My momma made me play. I remember it like it was yesterday. She said you’re going to play football.
“I went out there and we’ve got on pads the first day. I ran and I got hit. I looked up and started shaking my head to my momma. She looked at me and said ‘Boy, you’d better stay out there.’ I told her this wasn’t my sport.
“After that, I started to love it, though.”
Shuler vs. Cato
Shuler had a strong arm and became a youth league quarterback.
However, there came a time when another kid came into the league and also thought he was the quarterback for Shuler’s team.
That kid? Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Back before the days of Cato and Shuler, the Herd’s inseparable duo were actually competitors for the same position.
“Me and Cato were having a battle because he came in and I was like, ‘Man, I’m a quarterback, too,’” Shuler said. “We battled at everything with it. We were little boys and we’d be outside throwing rocks and bet about who could hit something.
“We were going to keep battling and battling, so I just said, ‘Man, I’m going to play receiver. If you’re going to be the quarterback, you just make sure you’re going to throw me the ball.’
“From then, we would play two-on-two in the streets or wherever and I was his receiver. We had a lot of fun.”
From Miami to Marshall
After budding their friendship through football, Cato and Shuler went all over together.
They were rising stars at Miami Springs High School, but decided to transfer to Miami Central as seniors to play for one of the top high school programs in the area.
There, they won a state championship and eventually turned down other offers to join forces again for the Herd.
Cato was the Conference USA Player of the Year in 2012 while Shuler was one of the country’s top pass-catchers and broke Marshall’s single-season record with 110 catches for 1,138 yards.
Heading into Saturday’s games, Shuler was tied for second nationally with 33 receptions and 11th nationally with 8.3 catches per game. His 367 receiving yards are also in the top-20 nationally.