Marshall football: Shuler prepares for added attention
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - One hundred and ten receptions in one season essentially eliminates the element of surprise.
Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler knows he's the target of every team the Thundering Herd football team faces in 2013. If the number of catches didn't do it, the spot on the 2012 all-Conference USA first team did. So the junior understands treading water won't cut it, not when the eyes of all those defensive coordinators are upon him. He needs to be faster, stronger, better.
Ask coaches and teammates on the field with him this spring, and they'll tell you he's working hard toward doing just that.
He's been working especially hard on the "faster" part. Shuler said that, every day, he hops on the treadmill for an hour with new wide receivers coach Mike Furrey by his side. A lot of people look at 60 minutes of running as a chore. But Shuler enjoys it.
He'll crack jokes with Furrey as they run and the hour flies by. He sees the results on the field - the ability to break away from defenders, to weave through heavy traffic toward the end zone - and knows the work is worth it.
"I feel like I'm getting faster," Shuler said. "I feel like I'm getting stronger. I feel like I'm moving in and out of my breaks more this year. I feel great coming into this spring."
Shuler had reason to feel great. He went from little-used option as a freshman, catching 14 passes for 122 yards in 10 games, to the top target in the Football Bowl Subdivision. His 9.17 catches per game was the best average in the FBS. He broke Mike Barber's 25-year old school record for receptions in a season and shattered the record for catches in a game, snagging 19 against Purdue. The old record of 15, shared by three former Herd receivers, was last reached in 2004.
Shuler finished 2012 with 1,138 yards, finishing just outside the top 10 all-time single season performances, and six touchdowns. Still, he wasn't completely satisfied. As good as that season was, he and the Herd left goals on the table.
"It had me feeling good and bad," Shuler said. "It was 50-50. I wanted to go to a bowl game. So I told myself I'd work extra hard, more than I did last spring."
If there's one thing the Herd doesn't have to worry about, it's Shuler working on his game. It's normal to see him watching film or calling quarterback Rakeem Cato to run pass patterns. Furrey said he's enjoyed watching Shuler this spring and helping him eliminate the negatives of his size and speed.
"The cool thing about Tommy is that Tommy's so competitive, when you tell him he can't do something, he's going to go behind closed doors and he's going to work on what people think he can't do," Furrey said. "He's been working."
Cato, Shuler's teammate since high school, said it doesn't matter whether they're home in Miami or at school in Huntington. He knows Shuler is hard at work.
"When we're home, he doesn't even have to call me," Cato said. "I'll call him. 'Where you at?' 'Oh, I'm working out.' He'll work out by himself. He'll go out, run stadiums. Shu just works. He wants it."
Furrey said the neatest thing about Shuler is that he hasn't had to teach the 5-foot-8, 190-pound receiver how to perfect the craft of catching passes. That motivation already is there. And Furrey, an eight-year NFL receiver who led the NFC in receptions in 2006 with the Detroit Lions, said it's not often that a player that young has that level of aptitude.
"You're going to get a lot of guys where you have to teach them. You have to educate them on the game. He's got a long way to go, but you don't come around guys who have the knowledge of the game like that and understand when to sit, how to break across people, what the defenses are doing, how to get open. It's pretty special to have."
Even those who know Shuler best - his teammates - have a tough time stopping him. In Marshall's first scrimmage of the spring he led 13 receivers with six catches for 72 yards. The Herd's receiving corps is trying to replace a pair of decorated receivers in Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson, but Shuler feels his offseason work, and a talented group of wideouts still on the roster, will help Marshall's offense to similar numbers in 2013.
"I feel like everything is coming into place," he said. "I'm reading the defenses better this year. I'm sitting in the right holes. Cato's finding me and me and Cato have watched extra film. I feel like we're going to do something special this year."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.