HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- For a size mismatch between position coach and his players on the Marshall team, it's tough to beat Alex Mirabal and his offensive linemen. But Todd Hartley and his tight ends would rank a close second.
Hartley, who was shifted from the secondary, is several inches taller than Mirabal, perhaps 5-foot-10, but may be more slender. As the joke goes, he might have to run around in the shower to get wet.
"Sometimes, especially in the winter, we'd do some hitting drills," said 6-6 Eric Frohnapfel, a first-teamer this spring. "He would be the defender and we had to go a little easy on him, because if you hit him too hard, he'd just take off in the air."
Jokes aside, Frohnapfel and nearly everybody else in the Thundering Herd program has high praise for Hartley's energy. Frohnapfel says he "gets up in your face, but in a good way."
Hartley is also the new recruiting coordinator, taking over those duties during the last cycle. He has been knee-deep in special teams throughout his two-plus year tenure, and is now in charge of the punt team and the kickoff return unit.
Head coach Doc Holliday knew Hartley also had offensive experience as a graduate assistant. With that in mind, he was confident in bringing Hartley across the line of scrimmage.
"Number one, he's an exceptional young coach," Holliday said. "He can coach either side of the ball, and that will only help his career. When he was with me before [at West Virginia], he coached on offense. He can coach anything.
"It was important to me to get another guy that had coordinator experience in here, and [linebacker coach] Adam Fuller gave us that. Also, Chuck [Heater, defensive coordinator] wanted to coach the secondary, which he's done his entire career. It was a move that, number one, Todd's done a great job recruiting, did a great job as recruiting coordinator throughout January. He's just a great young coach."
Hartley began his career as an offensive/special teams undergraduate assistant under Georgia coach Mark Richt from 2006 to 2008, when he went to WVU as an offensive quality control coach. He went back to Georgia as a defensive graduate assistant, and Richt made him interim defensive backs coach for the Bulldogs' 44-20 win over Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl.
He joined the MU staff in March 2011.
"I feel like I've touched a majority of these kids," Hartley said. "A lot of these kids have been in my room and been in my meetings, they're very familiar with what I've done. Now, I've been on defense and on offense.
"It's kind of weird. I'm going into my third season and I'm one of the 'savvy veterans' on staff. Right behind [offensive coordinator Bill] Legg, which is crazy."
Hartley's position has an almost-perfect distribution in experience. Watching is Gator Hoskins, who caught 10 touchdown passes last year but is out with shoulder surgery and back problems. He is expected to rejoin full conditioning in June.
Frohnapfel is working with the first unit, following his 13 catches for 129 yards with two touchdowns in his sophomore year. Walk-on Joe Woodrum, a sophomore from Bluefield, is getting a lot of reps this spring.
That leaves Stefone Grace, the 6-3 sophomore who has been looking for a position to call home. He signed in February 2010 and came to MU from prep school in January 2011, and began his career at linebacker.
"I think they were just trying to figure out the best spot for me to help the team," Grace said. "I like it. Coach Hartley teaches me a lot and I'm hoping to get on the field this year."
Hartley also has redshirt freshman Ryan Riedel, who remains sidelined, and sophomore Devon Johnson, who has his own shoulder issues.
"Devon Johnson is another big name that's not really getting reps right now that people seem to forget about," Hartley said. "He's going to be a big contributor for us at that tight end-slash-fullback-hybrid, whatever people want to call that, 'H,' 'Y,' whatever."
Marshall finished its fifth of 15 practices Thursday and will return at 9:15 a.m. Saturday. An 11-on-11 scrimmage will make up much of the morning, but won't be as big of a deal as the next two Saturdays. Those likely will be officiated, and will be open only to Big Green donors and season-ticket holders.
Thursday's practice turned a little spicy, as the offense turned in several eye-popping plays. Rakeem Cato had some big throws, including a long sideline throw to Tommy Shuler and a sweet touchdown lob to Shawney Kersey. Kevin Grooms also did his thing, zigzagging through the defense for what would have been a 65-yard touchdown run.
D.J. Hunter showed a little bravado by scuffling with an offensive lineman or two. And Cato danced around the field to celebrate once or twice.
"We want to score. Every time we get the ball, we want to score. We're going to score," said a confident Cato.
There was one injury of note: Linebacker Kent Turene hopped off after injuring his left foot.
One reminder about Saturday's practice: Fans are to use the northeast entrance at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and sit on the stadium's east side. They will notice the steel going up on the skybox expansion project, which has closed the west side.