HUNTINGTON - Doc Holliday’s recent hiring of new Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal already is paying dividends. Mirabal’s relationship with Sandley Jean-Felix was enough to get the 6-foot-5, 292-pound offensive lineman to back out of a previous commitment with Florida International and sign with the Herd.
Jean-Felix committed to future Conference USA member FIU when Mirabal was an assistant there. But after a head coaching change at the Miami school, Mirabal took the job of coaching the offensive line at Marshall.
And now, Jean-Felix now is following him north after an official visit Feb. 1-2 to Huntington.
“Coach Mirabal has been very good with me,” Jean-Felix said in a phone interview last week. “And last weekend, I made a visit to Marshall. I thought everything was great.
“And even though I just met Coach Holliday and the rest of the staff, I can tell they have my best interests at heart. I am confident they’ll help me get to the next level.”
Jean-Felix is from Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. The school also produced current Herd defensive tackle Marques Aiken and newly eligible Corey Tindal and Kent Turene.
“I talked to Marques and the others, and they gave me real good advice about the school, how the system works, that kind of stuff,” Jean-Felix said. “And about the weather. It’s very different from here in Florida.”
Jean-Felix’s story is interesting for a few reasons.
First, he’s only played football for two seasons.
Last fall, he led the Coach Wayne Blair’s Cobras to a 10-3 record and the third round of the Florida Class 7A playoffs, losing to eventual state champion St. Thomas Aquinas. Behind Jean-Felix’s blocking at tackle, the team ran for 705 yards and passed for 2,616. He didn’t play his junior season because of academic issues, but he started at guard as a sophomore.
Until the last few years, basketball was his passion. But Jean-Felix said his varsity basketball coach at Boyd Anderson was the one who actually talked him into thinking about football.
“I really love basketball, but the varsity head coach sat me down and told me that football would be my calling,” Jean-Felix said. “I didn’t get it at first. But then, I started playing and saw that football was my way out.
“It would be my path to success. So I credit Coach (Eugene) Anderson for helping me see that.”
Despite finding success rather quickly on the gridiron, Jean-Felix said it wasn’t easy.
“It was a lot of work to get where I am,” he said. “It didn’t all just come to me naturally. I’ve had my share of ups and downs.
“And still, there is a lot of potential for improvement.”
Secondly, his parents are Haitian and only speak Creole. So that threw an extra wrinkle into the recruiting process.
“Neither of his parents speaks English,” Holliday said. “It’s kind of a unique situation. What we had to do in this case is find somebody that spoke Creole. Alex (Mirabal) found someone at the school (Boyd Anderson High) who spoke Creole, so we did the home appointment and Alex sat in with someone who spoke Creole and got it done.”
Jean-Felix chuckled about that meeting.
“Yes, that was interesting,” he admitted.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” Holliday said.
“I wasn’t smart enough to figure Creole out, so we had to find an interpreter,” the Herd coach said. “It’s a challenge sometimes, because it’s getting more and more … it’s amazing. The Haitian kids, and kids that are bilingual, speak different languages, you run into that more and more, and they’re becoming good players.”
But it’s easy to see that Holliday is high on Jean-Felix and his potential.
“Sandley, he’s a man now,” Holliday said. “He’s about as athletic a big kid I’ve ever been around. He’s got the biggest hands I’ve ever seen in my life. Alex had him in camp (at FIU) for three years and he’s a real big athletic kid.
“He’s a great student, and he already has the test score. (And he has a) great relationship with Alex. He committed to FIU at one time, but when staff changed (when Coach Mario Cristobal was fired this offseason) he committed and ended up coming here a lot because of Alex. He’s a tremendously talented kid with a big upside.”
Jean-Felix also had offers from Middle Tennessee State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Alcorn State and Bethune-Cookman.
“Marshall is a good school,” Jean-Felix said. “I look to be very success there. And I feel as if God sent me there for a reason. I’m going to do my best, and I hope to have success there and at the next level.”
Chris Dickerson, a Wayne County native, Marshall graduate and former sportswriter and city editor at two West Virginia daily newspapers, is editor of the West Virginia Record and an adjunct journalism professor at MU.