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Herd unveils Class of 2013

MU football
Feb. 07, 2013 @ 12:58 AM

HUNTINGTON -- There was a calmness and an ease about Marshall University football coach Doc Holliday as he strolled into the Shawkey Room in Memorial Student Center on Wednesday afternoon.

He casually sat down, smiled and answered each question during a press conference.

Chances are, it was a much different demeanor than when Holliday walked into his office Wednesday morning not 100 percent certain of who would sign and who wouldn't.

Such is the madness that is National Signing Day, but it was all smiles for Holliday at day's end as he unveiled a 29-man class.

"I'm happy with the class and there weren't a whole lot of surprises," Holliday said. "There were a couple of guys we picked up today that we weren't sure we were going to get, so we were about plus-two on the day, which is unusual in this business...

"For the most part, we met out needs and we're excited about them and looking forward to getting them up here."

Most of the time with signing day, surprises are two-fold: there are always guys that a coach plans to get that don't sign, and there are guys they were unsure of that do sign.

The biggest surprise was 5-foot-10, 165-pound safety Michael Johnson from Miami, a former Florida State commit who was rated as the 27th-best defensive back in the country and the 68th-best prospect in the talent-rich state of Florida.

Actually, there needs to be a clarification.

Johnson was the most shocking surprise, but he wasn't the biggest.

That distinction belonged to 6-5, 292-pound offensive lineman Sandley Jean-Felix from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.

Jean-Felix's story is interesting.

Holliday, who said Jean-Felix had "the biggest hands I've ever seen in my life," also said the in-home visit with Jean-Felix's parents was interesting because his parents don't speak English.

The veteran recruiter had to get creative to not only win over Jean-Felix, but his parents as well.

"What we had to do in this case is find somebody that spoke Creole," Holliday said. "(Marshall offensive line coach) Alex (Mirabal) found someone at the school who spoke Creole, so we did the home appointment and Alex sat in with someone who spoke Creole and got it done. If there's a will, there's a way."

It's that attention to detail that has made Holliday and recruiting coordinator JaJuan Seider among the most respected recruiters in the nation, and also landed them the top non-BCS class and tops among Conference USA schools, according to Rivals.com.

That news excited Holliday, but it was tempered a bit.

"It means we're on the right kids and getting the right kids, but what counts is what happens when they get here and step on that field," Holliday said.

The class featured 17 high school playes and another 12 that are already on campus and enrolled. Holliday said 10 of the 12 already on campus will be eligible for spring practice.

That could be critical for a team looking to plug some holes immediately in an effort to make a run at the 2013 C-USA title.

In 2012, Marshall finished 5-7 despite having one of the nation's top offenses -- a fact that geared the Herd toward a recruiting class with a definite defensive feel while still providing for its major needs on offense.

Marshall allowed more than 40 points a game and was next-to-last at the FBS level in scoring defense.

The Herd's 29 recruits break down to six linebackers, six defensive backs and two defensive linemen on the defensive side and six offensive linemen, six wide receivers, two running backs and one quarterback on the offensive end.

Linebacker was a critical position and Holliday's staff snagged some key players such as Georgia Military Academy's Neville Hewitt, who will have three years to play two, and Fork Union Military Academy product Stefan Houston. Kent Turene and Gary Thompson are already enrolled while Aaron Plantt and Jeremiah Benjamin are a pair of highly-touted high school linebackers who will make their way to campus this summer.

In addition to the needs at linebacker, the Herd also solidified replacements for depth at safety.

Johnson was one player that grabbed attention, but the Herd also got a couple of older players who may fill the gaps sooner than later. The most notable name is juco transfer Taj Letman, who is likely to move into a free safety spot in 2013.

Others include Tiquan Lang, Shykeem Pitts, De'Andre "Chocolate" Wilson and Corey Tindal, who is like Turene and Thompson in that he's already enrolled.

"We felt like we helped ourselves at linebacker and, if you take a look at the safety position, being able to get Taj Letman -- a juco kid that can get us a little older help there -- and signing Michael Johnson out of high school, along with Tiquan Lang, that was huge," Holliday said.

On the offensive side the Herd lost a trio of receivers to graduation, but more than made up for its losses in quantity by signing six receivers.

The receivers include high school signees Justin Hunt of Memphis and Josh Knight of Florida. Penn State transfer Devon Smith, who came to Marshall late in camp last season, is one of this year's receivers and he'll be joined by former Penn State receiver Shawney Kersey -- both of whom will be seniors.

Post-graduate additions at wide receiver include highly-regarded Angelo Jean-Louis, a Florida product who comes to Marshall from Fork Union, and Deontay McManus, who is from Baltimore, but spent last season at Atlanta Sports Academy.

With Wednesday's signings, the offensive front got lots of size and depth.

Joining Jean-Felix along the offensive line will be Ohio linemen Cody Collins and Chris Huhn, Georgia product Michael Selby, who turned down a late offer from Georgia Tech, Miami's Gerald Wright and Tyler Combs, who is originally a member of the 2012 class out of Lawrence County High School in Louisa, Ky.

Other signees include quarterback Kevin Anderson of Boca Raton, Fla., running backs Brandon Byrd of Florida and Tony Pittman of Hampton, Va., and defensive linemen Arnold Blackmon and Josh Brown. Brown, who enrolled this semester, originally signed with Clemson out of high school. He also had offers from Georgia Tech, Kentucky, N.C. State and South Carolina among others.

Holliday said the strong class was a tribute to his staff.

"There's no secret," Holliday said. "It's all about relationships, but it's also about hard work and outworking people."

With signing day complete, the Herd looks forward to the March 26 start of spring drills. The Green-White game is April 27.

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