HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - So Doc Holliday's Marshall coaching staff was in a state of flux during the height of recruiting season. What effect would that have on the Thundering Herd's new signing class? Apparently, none. Check that - the effect just might have been positive. It showed as Holliday unveiled his fourth signing class Wednesday. A total of 29 players signed letters of intent, a combination of one mid-year junior college signing, nonqualifiers from last year, students already in class at MU, two Penn State transfers and the usual number of prep school and high school prospects. And there were some last-week steals and hard-fought retentions. In the day's surprise, Holliday and recruiting coordinator JuJuanSeider hauled defensive back Michael Johnson off Florida State's recruitment list. That wasn't reported until Wednesday morning by Warchant, an FSU-oriented website. In a swaying that was reported in south Florida earlier in the week, incoming assistant Alex Mirabal helped land offensive lineman Sandley Jean-Felix of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. Jean-Felix was one of the better commitments at new Conference USA rival Florida International, and was one of the most solid - until Mirabal and the rest of the FIU staff were fired. The Herd also flipped defensive back Tiquan Lang, a Georgia Class 6A first-team all-stater who was listed as a South Alabama commitment for four months. Among those thought to be signing with MU on Wednesday, only California junior college cornerback Lakeith Murray did not. "I'm happy with the class. There weren't a whole lot of surprises," Holliday said. "There were a couple of guys we picked up today we weren't quite sure we were going to get. We were about plus-two on the day, which is unusual in this business." Holliday used his deep recruiting roots in Miami to land Johnson, who helped Booker T. Washington High win the Florida Class 4A championship. That school's only loss was to 6A Miami Central, the former home of MU's pass-catch combo of Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler. "We have great contacts at Booker T.," Holliday said. "[Head coach Tim] 'Ice' Harris is a personal friend, [assistant coach] Ben Hanks I recruited out of high school is down there. We have a lot of friends in that school, and I recruited Michael's dad way back, when he was at Miami High, so I had a relationship with his dad. "[Johnson is] a tremendous young guy who wants an opportunity to play early, and kids do things for different reasons. We were fortunate we hung in there with him, he visited and he liked it and he ended up signing with us. That was a good get." Jean-Felix was in an odd situation in Broward County, but one that will become more common. His parents are Haitian, and they don't speak English, or Spanish for that matter. Mirabal brought him to his high school camp for three years and secured his commitment at FIU, but swaying him to come northward provided another challenge. "What we had to do in this case is find somebody who spoke Creole," Holliday said. "We found somebody at the [high] school there who spoke Creole, and we did the whole appointment. Alex was sitting there, somebody spoke Creole and we got it done. If there's a will, there's a way. "I wasn't smart enough to figure Creole out, so we had to find an interpreter." Mirabal was Holliday's last new coaching hire - in fact, it still has not been formally announced. Chuck Heater, the new defensive coordinator, helped bring the Herd in on Lang. And while the coaching staff shuffled, Seider, Gerad Parker, Bill Legg and J.C. Price did some very heavy lifting. Price is credited for getting former Maryland signee Stefan Houston out of Fork Union Military Academy, among others, and Hartley's name is all over the school's recruiting press release. Holliday singled out one special effort. "Todd Hartley had a kid from Georgia [offensive lineman Michael Selby] who was offered by Georgia Tech three days ago and told Chan Gailey, 'No, he's going to Marshall.' So that was all because of that relationship with Todd Hartley. He had his arms wrapped around everyone in that family that helped make that decision, and we were able to hang on. "I can't give those guys enough credit - those five guys who were here and did the bulk of the recruiting."
With a 2012 senior class you could stuff in those Volkswagen Beetles of days gone by, a class of 15-20 was expected this signing period. And that's what the Herd got, sort of.
There were 17 newcomers who signed Wednesday, but the total class numbers an oversigned 29. You can add punter Tyler Williams, a walk-on who more than earned his scholarship beginning this spring, for No. 30.
Nonqualifiers and those that opt for prep school or junior college likely will get that down to the NCAA maximum 25.
So where did all these guys come from?
One, Taj Letman, was a midyear junior-college signee. Arnold Blackmon signed in December as well, but he did not enroll at MU and had to sign another letter of intent.
Two are wide receivers transferred from Penn State, Shawney Kersey and Devon "Moo Moo" Smith. Smith had been on campus last fall but took a redshirt year, and Kersey has enrolled as a graduate student. Both have one year of eligibility remaining.
Four are nonqualifiers from Marshall's 2012 class - linebacker Ken Turene, offensive lineman Tyler Combs, defensive end/linebacker Gary Thompson and cornerback Corey Tindal. Another is a 2012 Clemson signee, defensive lineman Josh Brown. Another 2012 nonqualifier, Larry Jefferson, has been dismissed for violating team rules.
Twelve are enrolled in MU's spring semester, including Houston and Angelo Jean-Louis from Fork Union, Deontay McManus from Atlanta Sports Academy and one honest-to-God early high school graduate, quarterback Kevin Anderson. nn
Holliday thinks all pressing needs have been met, including: Wide receivers, with voids left by the departures of Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Snipes-Booker.
Pick your poison: There is size (6-foot-2, 215-pound Deontay McManus), speed and veteran presence (the Penn State transfers). Linebackers: There are five or six, depending on how you designate Thompson. Pass rushers: Thompson, designated as a defensive end/linebacker, seems to be the next Albert McClellan/Vinny Curry prototype, or at least that's the plan. Offensive linemen: Five more of those will keep that position room full. Cater that group at your own risk.
Coaches don't necessarily like to see one of those play immediately, but there are some who are physically closer than most freshmen. Jean-Felix comes to Holliday's immediate mind.
"The Sandley kid, he's a man now," Holliday said. "He's about as athletic, big kid as I've ever been around. He's got the biggest hands I've ever seen in my life." Quarterback: It doesn't seem to be a need, except that the Herd carried three scholarship QBs last season. Look to the 2010 season for a testimonial on how daring that is.
"You make a mistake if you don't take one in every class," Holliday said.
Anderson, who developed under 1996 Herd passer Eric Kresser, is fully recovered from a broken collarbone and is throwing. He'll jump into the QB position with junior Cato, sophomore Blake Frohnapfel and redshirt freshman Gunnar Holcombe. nn
And finally, Marshall can claim a so-called recruiting championship. The recruiting-oriented websites love to tally all the stars, put their mathematical spin and rank all the schools, overall and by conference.
Overall, there is a wide variation - 48th by 247 Sports, 63rd by Rivals and 78th by Scout. But the Herd sits at or near the top of Conference USA in all the rankings - 247 even has the Herd ahead of the old, supposedly stronger, lineup.
"I don't know what it means," Holliday said. "Evidently, it means you're recruiting who people think are pretty good players. I mean, I'd rather be No. 1 than No. 10."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or email@example.com or fol low him at twitter.com/dougsmock.