HUNTINGTON — Every year, college football coaches mine the fields of junior colleges hoping to find a hidden gem to help their team immediately.
In the case of Marshall’s 2020 recruiting class, the Herd struck gold when head coach Doc Holliday and his staff made their way to Navarro College.
Navarro College is a school in Corsicana, Texas — more than 1,000 miles and 16 hours away from Huntington, West Virginia.
So far, however, the Herd’s long-distance pipeline has paid off royally with three immediate impact players in linebacker Abraham Beauplan, cornerback Josh Bowers and wide receiver Shadeed Ahmed.
“We hit home runs on those junior college kids — all three of those guys,” Holliday said.
Holliday gave credit to former Marshall recruiting coordinator and safeties coach Mike Treier — now with the New York Giants — for wrangling the three Texas JUCO products to Huntington.
As Holliday said, Treier’s trip was to recruit one player — Bowers — but Treier came back with a trio of prospects for the Herd to utilize within their program.
Beauplan emerged first as a playmaking linebacker who had a knack for big plays.
So far on the season, Beauplan has 20 tackles in five games and leads the team with two forced fumbles.
While Beauplan has been a key cog since opening week, last week’s 20-9 win over Florida Atlantic allowed Bowers to emerge as a viable coverage threat on the outside.
Bowers had proven himself on special teams, making several tackles on kickoff coverage, but was forced into defensive duties last week with starter Nazeeh Johnson missing his second straight game.
Johnson’s absence shifted Steven Gilmore to nickelback and forced Bowers to the outside against FAU’s bevy of high-major Division I transfers at receiver.
The junior from Bradenton, Florida, finished with 11 tackles to place second on the team in the win.
“There’s no question that Bowers has earned the right to play and play a lot more because the way he played really well on Saturday,” Holliday said. “That’s good for us because that gives us two or three corners in there that can match up and give us what we want on the outside.”
Both Beauplan and Bowers have helped a defense that is among the nation’s best, allowing just 9.4 points per game.
While Holliday is excited about both defensive players, he is also just as high on Ahmed, who has shown some flash and some elusiveness at the receiver position.
Ahmed has five catches for 36 yards so far in spot duty this season, but has played more in the last two games due to injuries at the receiver position.
One thing that Holliday is most excited about with the trio is that they all get the extra year of eligibility this season due to the NCAA’s ruling allowing a free year, based on COVID-19 complications.
Holliday said it’s a wish-come-true for him when dealing with JUCO players.
“Normally at the end of the year, you look up — like Arnold Blackmon and some of those guys — and you say, ‘Gah, if that kid just had one more year, he’d have been really, really special.’ He was really good as a junior and a senior.”
Bowers and Beauplan will each have two years following this season with the Herd, but Ahmed was only at Navarro for one year and will have three seasons after 2020, which essentially makes him like a typical freshman for the Herd.
While they might have extensive time with the Herd, Holliday also credited those at Navarro for having that trio of players FBS-ready coming out of junior college.
“Most of the time when you bring junior college kids in, they aren’t as developed as these three were, so that’s a credit to Navarro with the way they developed those kids at the junior college,” Holliday said.