WASHINGTON, D.C. - Here's how tough it is to wrangle nationally renowned football talent to a program like Marshall University's: According to 247Sports.com's composite rankings, which take into account rankings from every major recruiting site in America, the Thundering Herd had the highest-rated signing class among Football Bowl Subdivision non-automatic qualifier schools.
And the Herd ranked 48th overall.
Yet here Marshall is, at 9-4 and preparing to face Maryland on Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the Military Bowl (2:30 p.m., ESPN), with a team almost entirely recruited to Huntington by Coach Doc Holliday and his staff. How does the Herd reach this point when four- and five-star talent isn't teeming in Huntington like it does in Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee? Herd coaches look beyond the stars.
Coaches say it's not just about finding talent. It's about finding the right talent and mining for it in places that others might not look.
Holliday said that star ratings, the backbone of recruiting websites, don't tell enough of the story.
The coaches who recruit the right way look at the aspects of a player that don't shine through the stars.
"You see guys that make plays," he said. "You see guys that have that 'it' factor. You see guys that have big hearts and love football."
When Holliday took an assistant's job under Urban Meyer at the University of Florida, he figured the team logo on his jacket would make it a simple job. It only made it more difficult, because while wading through the four- and five-star athletes who wanted to come to Gainesville, Holliday had to divine exactly which ones would be the right fit.
"It was easy to go out and find you 20 great players," he said. "Finding the right ones where football was important to them, they went to work every day and the team was more important than individual stats is the important thing.
"I learned a lot recruiting there because there's so much more to it than athletic ability and being able to jump high and run fast," Holliday said. "There are a lot of players out there that can't jump real high or run real fast, but are really good football players."
And some of the most productive football players aren't always the biggest, tallest, fastest or strongest. The inch off the perfect height or the tenth of a second off the perfect 40-yard-dash time might make a player a notch below the blue-chip level. Yet, coaches say, they may have the desire and competitiveness that overshadow the measurables.
So when quarterback Rakeem Cato arrives at Marshall listed at 170 pounds as a freshman, the Herd coaches overlook that in favor of the competitiveness that allows him to guide Marshall to a Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl win in his first year. And when receiver Tommy Shuler comes in listed at 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, Marshall coaches instead focus on his uncanny ability to get open, which leads to a 110-catch season as a sophomore.