Chuck McGill: Hartley helps shift Herd’s focus toward Georgia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Todd Hartley is a husband, a father and an assistant football coach.

In addition to coaching tight ends he doubles as the recruiting coordinator at Marshall University, and head coach Doc Holliday has heaped upon him a pair of special team duties: punt and kickoff return.

The 28-year-old Hartley is helping grow the Herd football family, while his family expands at home. The Hartleys are expecting their third child.

Hartley has one son, Tucker, who is 3. A daughter, Tenley, turned 1 on National Signing Day in February. Another daughter is on the way, due Aug. 24 — a week before the Thundering Herd opens its regular season and in the thick of two-a-days.

“We’re going to have a full house,” Hartley said. “I pray ... a lot.”

There doesn’t seem to be any busted coverage for the former safeties coach. Hartley has proven he can handle whatever is thrown at him.

He’s coached on both sides of the ball since he joined Holliday’s staff in 2011. He took the recruiting reigns from JaJuan Seider in 2013, and promptly did the improbable: convinced Holliday to shift focus from talent-rich Florida and devote more time to Hartley’s home state, Georgia.

“There are obviously good kids in Florida, but there’s good kids in Georgia, too,” Hartley said. “They’re extremely well-coached, tough, hard-nosed country kids that sometimes get overlooked because it’s a little harder to get around in Georgia. Coaches aren’t willing to drive four hours to find kids.

“The Florida kids are everywhere — Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando — so the whole state is getting hit by a ton of coaches.”

In Holliday’s first four recruiting classes, Florida was the program’s main pipeline. That was to be expected given the hiring of Holliday, who was a longtime assistant known for his recruiting acumen and connections throughout the state.

The Sunshine State vs. Peach State recruiting numbers were slanted at first, sometimes as many as five times more from Florida than Georgia in Holliday’s first four seasons. That changed on Tenley’s first birthday, when the Herd landed nine Georgia products and five Florida signees for Holliday’s fifth class at Marshall.

The team’s spring roster showed 31 players from Florida and eight from Georgia. It’s a ratio that’ll clearly shift when the newcomers arrive this summer, and it seems like a trend that will continue as long as Hartley scours the hard-to-reach areas of his home state mining for talent.

“We got one kid, then two kids and now it’s kind of taken off,” Hartley said. “Coach Holliday put a lot of trust in me and my evaluation of the state of Georgia. He trust me, put his faith in me and it has worked out so far.”

There is buzz down there now. Marshall is coming off a 10-win season and a Conference USA East Division championship, and the Georgia products are playing key roles. Michael Selby muscled his way into the mix on the offensive line as a true freshman and made the C-USA all-freshman team without the benefit of a redshirt season. Two of the Herd’s three top tacklers — Neville Hewitt and Jermaine Holmes — have the Georgia pedigree.

“It helps to have that (championship) ring; that’s a great recruiting tool,” Hartley said. “But these kids are coming in and playing, and there’s evidence of that. They can see that.”

Marshall has three verbal pledges in its 2015 class: two from Florida (linebacker Marquis Couch and quarterback Chase Litton) and one from Georgia (athlete Delvin Weems). Call it the Florida-Georgia line ... filing straight toward Huntington.

“The momentum is definitely building,” Hartley said.

Hartley, who has a southern drawl and roots for the Atlanta Braves, was born in Gray, Ga., played quarterback for Jones County High School and totaled six seasons (four as a volunteer assistant and two as a graduate assistant) at the University of Georgia. He has plenty of history in the state and now the state is sending plenty his way for the Herd’s football future.

Shoot, come to think of it, Georgia would be a fitting name for Baby No. 3.

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