HUNTINGTON — Let’s dispel the myth right now: Marshall tackle Sandley Jean-Felix cannot tie his shoes while standing straight up.
But he doesn’t have to bend over that far to reach his laces. He almost doesn’t have to bend over to put his hands on his knees. Not with arms that long.
How long are they?
“You watch the NFL’s arm lengths. They say 33 inches is too short,” said Alex Mirabal, Marshall’s offensive line coach. “But Sandley’s are 36 ¾ inches. That’s ridiculously long.”
Mirabal recalled one lineman with comparable arm length, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the former Virginia and current New York Jets standout. That was about it.
Jean-Felix may have even fewer peers when it comes to the size of his huge hands. You know the aforementioned task of tying his shoes? He can do it despite his appropriately large fingers.
As for buying gloves to ward off the chill, this Sunrise, Fla., native can’t run to Walmart to find them. How big are your gloves, big fella?
“For gloves, I’m supposed to be wearing 5X,” he said.
“His hands are ridiculously large,” said the 5-foot-5 Mirabal. “Clint Van Horn has big hands, and he makes Clint Van Horn look like me.”
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound son of Haitian immigrants once thought of a basketball career — “I can do 360s [dunks] all day,” he said with a smile — but he was persuaded to go the football route. When he participated in a camp at Florida International and met Mirabal, the decision was final.
After Jean-Felix’s senior season in high school, Mirabal was swept away in FIU’s purge of head coach Mario Cristobal and staff. Familiar with Mirabal’s deep Miami roots, Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday quickly brought him on during the final weeks before national signing day.
And Jean-Felix ended his 2-year-long commitment to FIU.
“I knew I could get great coaching, get to the next level because of him,” Jean-Felix said of Mirabal. “I don’t regret the decision at all.”
As most offensive linemen do, Jean-Felix redshirted in 2013, then took advantage of offseason conditioning. Weight is not the issue — he said the goal is to stay in the 315-320-pound range.
As far as strength goes, Mirabal said Jean-Felix can now bench-press 225 pounds for 25 continuous reps. (Remember, that bar has a long way be raised by those long arms.) But the big emphasis was flexibility.
This month, Jean-Felix has taken advantage of Van Horn’s injury to take a week-plus of first-team reps at right tackle. Van Horn may be fully healthy — coaches get a bit tight-lipped during the third week of camp — but he could be one of the veterans taking a reduced load leading up to the Herd’s Aug. 30 opener at Miami (Ohio).
Jean-Felix is stronger at pass blocking, and why wouldn’t he be? If/when his techniques are perfected, pass-rushers are going to need a relay team to get around him.
Run-blocking is a point of emphasis, as is footwork in any blocking discipline, but there are many more facets for a redshirt freshman to piece together.
“It’s putting together what he knows into action very quickly,” Mirabal said. “With our tempo, we have to teach him what to do and he has to do it within two or three seconds. He’s lucky to be surrounded by veterans who will help with his learning the position.”
Perhaps the final piece of Jean-Felix’s plan is a large dose of old-fashioned anger.
“He’s a mild-mannered man, a religious man,” Mirabal said. “Sandley was always told to be careful around other kids. Now, you’ve got to take that size and use it to your advantage, use your size to remove people.
“When you walk across the white lines, it’s OK [to be physical]. When you’re on the streets, it’s not OK.”
Reach Doug Smock at email@example.com, 304-348-5130 or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.