By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
There was a noticeable theme among the athletes who signed national letters-of-intent Wednesday to play football at Marshall.
Much of the Class of 2013 will be on display when spring drills begin next month.
Twenty-nine players make up this year’s recruiting class for the Thundering Herd, the fourth under head coach Doc Holliday. The breakdown by positions is: quarterbacks (1), receivers (6), offensive linemen (5), defensive linemen (2), linebackers (8) and defensive backs (7).
The class is ranked by Rivals.com as the best among non-BCS schools. Five are rated as four-star recruits by ESPN.com.
“This is the culmination of a team effort which included our coaches, administration, support staff and student-athletes,” Holliday said. “Marshall football is getting another outstanding recruiting class as we welcome these fine young men to our program.”
Twelve of the players in this year’s class are already enrolled at Marshall. Many of them are players who have connections to BCS-level programs.
That includes wide receiver Shawney Kersey. The Woodbury, N.J., native played in two games at Penn State last season for first-year coach Bill O’Brien before leaving the program. He will be immediately eligible as a graduate student, much the same as safeties Dominic LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha were in 2012 after playing at Boston College.
Another Penn State product, receiver Devon Smith, redshirted at Marshall last fall and counts toward this year’s class. Smith played in 2011 for the late Joe Paterno, catching 25 passes for 402 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Other early enrollees include linebacker Stefan Houston and receiver/athlete Angelo Jean-Louis. Houston originally signed with Maryland and Jean-Louis with Miami, but grade issues sent them both to Fork Union Military Academy. They will be teammates again, this time while wearing the green and white.
“Marshall’s been here for me since Day 1,” Jean-Louis told the Palm Beach Post after his verbal commitment last month. “We decided it was a good place for me, so I pulled the trigger.”
Receiver Deontay McManus comes to Marshall via the Atlanta Sports Academy, the same program that produced Thundering Herd punter Tyler Williams, who wound up being a freshman All-American.
McManus, originally a 2012 prospect who had signed with West Virginia, is joined by ASA teammates, cornerback Corey Tindal and linebacker Kent Turene. Tindal had originally signed with Florida International — which will join Conference USA next fall and host the Herd on Nov. 23 — while Turene is a former Georgia signee.
Former Clemson signee Josh Brown instead enrolled at Marshall in the fall out of South Aiken (S.C.) High School. The defensive lineman had 90 tackles, which included 22 for loss, and eight sacks his senior year.
Brown would not have been academically eligible at Clemson or anywhere in 2012. After some haggling, the Tigers granted Brown his release, freeing him to enroll at Marshall.
C-USA is one of the few leagues that allows its teams to accept non-qualifiers, and South Aiken coach Jeremy West praised Marshall for the support it provides to Prop 48 athletes.
“The big thing about Marshall is the help program they have (for student-athletes),” West told The Register-Herald in July. “It helps a lot of students out. That’s the reason he wanted to visit, to see how it compares to Clemson’s. But Clemson was pretty adamant about him not making a visit.”
Other early enrollees are quarterback Kevin Anderson out of Boca Raton (Fla.) High School; offensive lineman Tyler Combs (Lawrence County High in Kentucky); defensive back Taj Letman (Holmes Community College in Mississippi); and linebacker Gary Thompson (Helix High in San Diego).
Anderson graduated early from Boca Raton, which also produced former Herd quarterback Eddie Sullivan. Anderson’s private quarterback coach since he was in eighth grade has been Eric Kresser, who guided the Herd to a 15-0 record and the Division I-AA national championship in 1996.
The first current high school student-athlete to fax in his letter was Michael Selby, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive lineman from Washington County High in Sandersville, Ga. The Herd made strides in its running game last season and Selby could help bring it along even further — Washington County ran for over 3,000 yards in 2012.
Selby committed to Marshall last year, then was reportedly approached by Georgia Tech over the weekend.
“(Offensive line) Coach (Mike) Sewak talked to me and he offered me,” Selby told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Then I talked to (head coach) Paul Johnson and all of them. …Well, I thought it over with and I ended up not taking it because I didn’t really have a relationship with the Georgia Tech coaches and I also felt like Marshall was the place where I needed to be.”
Two areas of need were addressed. Receiving depth took a hit with the graduation of the AAA combination: Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and Andre Snipes-Booker. Dobson is likely to be chosen in April’s NFL draft.
Much attention was given to the defense, which allowed 43.1 points per game and was 10th out of 12 teams at 456.6 yards per game.
— E-mail: gfauber