HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—Much of the hype surrounding the Thundering Herd this preseason has focused on its Heisman hopeful quarterback Rakeem Cato. That hype will continue to grow, especially if Cato matches the production of his sophomore and junior seasons in 2014 and leads Marshall to a Conference USA title. However, Cato is the first to credit the five guys in front of him for his success.
“We take a lot of pride in helping him succeed,” offensive line coach Alex Mirabal told WRVC’s Supertalk Sportsline.
“On the sidelines after a touchdown pass or after we score, he’s [Cato] the first guy who comes and taps me on the shoulder and says ‘Coach can I talk to them?’ He’s the first one to congratulate them and those kinds of little things go a long way for those guys up front and they are willing to put it on the line for him.”
Cato has a special bond with his offensive line, according to Mirabal, which motivates it to make certain no one lays a hand The Herd’s triggerman.
“We take a lot of pride and pleasure in making sure, not only he doesn’t get sacked, but also that he doesn’t take hits. You got to have a triggerman to have an opportunity to win and we feel we have one of the best triggermen in the country.”
Mirabal is excited about the group tasked with protecting Cato and plowing the way for The Herd’s running game. The line is anchored by Rimington Award candidate center Chris Jasperse, who Mirabal calls the “Rakeem Cato of the offensive line.” Jasperse has been a rock for Marshall’s offensive line, starting every single game since he arrived on campus.
Mirabal believes the 2014 offensive line will be more athletic, stronger and nastier than last year’s unit, and that was a pretty darn good group. The line earned the nickname “Iron Five” and led the way for a rushing attack that averaged 206 yards per game.
Heading into fall camp Blake Brooks and Michael Selby are tabbed as the starting guards while Clint Van Horn and Sebastian Johansson will man the tackle positions.
“We feel we’re physically stronger and nastier on the inside and that’s going to help our run game this year,” insisted Mirabal. “We believe Van Horn and Johansson are the best tackles in the conference.”
Mirabal admits you can go to schools in the SEC or Big 10 and probably find better individual offensive linemen but feels as a group, his line is one of the best in the country.
“I wouldn’t trade this group for anybody,” says Mirabal. “There might be better individuals around the country who play on the offensive line but not as a group. Everyday we work on sacrificing ourselves for the group.”
Rakeem Cato will continue to grab the headlines especially if Marshall is successful but the key to his success and the teams is on the broad shoulders of the five men up front.
“There’s a lot of expectations for them this season and they’re working to fulfill those expectations.”