HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In the past two seasons, Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler has soared into the upper echelon of Thundering Herd pass-catchers. Only three others in Marshall history have at least two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. No other receiver in Marshall history has two seasons with at least 80 catches.
Ask Shuler, and he'll tell you he felt he was a top-caliber receiver as soon as he walked on campus from Miami Central High School. His stats, and his playing time, as a freshman don't match that - and Shuler takes full blame for that.
"I feel I could have been put in that category when I first got here, but I feel like I was being lazy and not working as hard as I usually do," he said, "so the light came on in my head that I've got to get going and I've got to do extra."
That extra work has made him the top target of Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato, as well as the top target of the Rice secondary entering this Saturday's Conference USA title game in Houston (noon, ESPN2).
Shuler's freshman season numbers did not look like those of a player who would rewrite Marshall's record books. He caught just 14 passes for 122 yards in 10 games. Eight players finished ahead of him on the Herd's 2011 receiving charts. That was a different reality than the one Shuler was used to. While in Miami, he caught for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his high school career.
But that different reality is one many young players experience, MU offensive oordinator Bill Legg said.
"You're a kid that's been highly successful in high school, Tommy Shuler being one of them, and they walk in and they expect things to be the same," Legg said. "They're competing now against guys who are four years older than them. They're learning a new language. There are different techniques and the speed is different at the collegiate level. It takes work and it takes diligence and it doesn't just happen by accident."
Shuler wanted to become the target that receivers like Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson were in Marshall's offense, especially since Shuler's high school teammate Cato was the man throwing the passes. So, beginning in the offseason before his sophomore year, he never shied away from hard work.