Friday, August 8, 2014

Mirabal Casts a Senior Sized Shadow

Attitude reflects leadership; three simple words that sum up the relationship of Marshall’s offensive line coach Alex Mirabal and Rimington Award watch list senior center Chris Jasperse. Although the second-year coach—who stands well under six-foot and 150 pounds--may not look the part of an offensive line coach, he has a 6-4 shadow in the way of Jasperse who is echoing his every movement.

Coach Mirabal working with the line
As Marshall football opened its fall camp this week, it was the first time on the practice field for several of the new Thundering Herd players. Although Jasperse practice time was during the afternoon, he was visible at every morning session after he completed his workout, working with the Herd rookies.

“We call him coach,” Mirabal said of Jasperse. “He makes corrections on the field so we don’t have any wasted plays.”

Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said Jasperse, along with several other players on the team, changed the culture of the program mid last season when the players took ownership of the team.

"I've always said when players take ownership in the team you've got a chance," Holliday said. "That started happening about midway through the season last year and its continued through the summer and its better now than it’s ever been.

That was certainly the case as the new Thundering Herd lineman began their careers as Marshall Monday, it was Mirabal coaching one guy and Jasperse working with someone else. At one point in the Tuesday morning session, Jasperse spent some time working with junior transfer quarterback Michael Birdsong.

Chris Jasperse
"Chris is a great mentor and a great coach as he has been out here every morning," Birdsong said. "He actually helped me pick up on the blitzes and the checks, something a young center may not see. He is helping me out with how to relay that information to my line so it’s huge to have a guy like him out here."

But why wouldn’t someone want to listen to a guy who currently leads the nation in career snaps (3022)—nearly 1100 of those coming last year—and is tied with Cyrill Lemon from North Texas for most consecutive games played as a lineman (39).

Mirabal calls Jasperse a student of the game and the most difficult part is managing Jasperse’s time in practice.

“We have a rule in practice,” explained Mirabal. “If 12’s in 60’s in and if 60’s out, 12’s out. It’s a way to handle both players together to make sure to limit his reps in practice. He would take every snap if we let him.”

But with all the records, watch lists and the culture of Marshall football looking to returning to that of its days in the MAC, Mirabal expects something greater from his lineman than stats.

"When I arrived at Marshall I asked the offensive line what their legacy was going to be," Mirabal said. "The legacy gets passed on to the freshman and they will continue to pass it on when they become upperclassmen. Chris (Jasperse) has really taken that to heart as he comes out here every morning and coaches the heck out of the younger guys."

Mirabal explained the actions of his veteran lineman will affect the younger guys like high touted freshman Nathaniel Devers who hopes to follow in Jasperse footsteps.

"I'll guarantee that in two years from now that Devers will be doing the same thing because someone did it for him," added Mirabal. “Guys like Van Horn and Swede are doing the same with the guys who will play behind them. That’s important to continue to keep this moving in the right direction.”

While Mirabal credits his starting lineman for carrying the torch, Jasperse said it all started once Mirabal arrived at Marshall.

“Coach brought a new mentality to Marshall,” Jasperse said.  “He always tells us don’t make the perfect call but rather make your call perfect.”

Jasperse explained that Mirabal’s philosophy is more than what is between the hashes.

“He is all about picking up the tempo and being tough off the field before we were tough on the field. That mentality has carried over onto the field and now when the younger guys see us older guys working, they want to work harder.”

While Jasperse admits he enjoys working with the other players, everything he does is for the love of the game.

“I want to be around to help the new guys out,” Jasperse said. “The more guys they hear feedback from the quicker it gets them up to speed. Clint, Swede and I are all on the same page as Coach Mirabal so it just provides more positive feedback for the young guys.”

While life after Jasperse thoughts are obviously in the wings, Mirabal said that’s not a worry for now.

“I’m not worried about that until next year,” said Mirabal. “I’m worried about this year. We have five guys in Tom Collins, Devers, Michael Selby, Blake Brooks and of course Jasperse. We have five guys who can snap the ball and only one of those five graduates this year and that’s Jasperse. We’ll find a replacement for him next year. But for now, 60 will snap the ball.”

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