HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Tommy Shuler knows his beard could use a trim. The Marshall wide receiver's whiskers are a bit thicker than they normally are, but it's not out of a desire to look like his current quarterback and former Miami Central High teammate, Rakeem Cato.
The junior is a man right now without much free time.
"I just haven't been able to get to the barbershop," Shuler said. "I've been worrying about getting me back together. I don't need a cut right now."
Shuler has yet to participate in a full preseason practice. He's recovering from offseason foot surgery and coaches are easing him back into action. There's not much he needs to prove to the Thundering Herd's staff after his record-breaking season last year. But he wants to prove that he can reach the same levels or higher in 2013.
Shuler entered last season as a seldom-used slot receiver, but ended it as one of the top pass-catchers in the Football Bowl Subdivision. His freshman season in 2011 consisted of 14 receptions for 122 yards and no touchdowns. His sophomore season included 110 catches for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns. He broke Mike Barber's single-season record of 106 catches in 1987, was named an all-Conference USA first teamer and found himself on the 2013 Biletnikoff Award watch list.
But not finding himself among the players who can go full-contact this preseason has been frustrating. It's not something Shuler is used to, and not something he ever wants to get used to.
"Where I come from, we don't take days off," Shuler said. "When I was at Miami Central, I broke my hand the day before we played Booker T. (Washington) and I played the next day. It's been kind of frustrating being out for eight weeks.
"I feel like I've been getting my groove back each day, but I want to be out there to help them out," Shuler added. "On that big third down we want to convert, I feel we can convert if I can be out there just to give the defense a look or to get me the ball.
That competitive spirit has earned Shuler the respect of his teammates, especially senior corner Derrick Thomas. Since Thomas arrived last season as a Penn State transfer, he's considered Shuler one of his closest friends on the team. As fiery as they are going head to head on the field, it's that fire that's made them so compatible.
"It's his love for the game," Thomas said. "He just wants to compete so much. All he wants to do is compete, compete, compete. And now that we're running man coverage, he loves that, because it's just us against them."