NAU football breakdown: Wide receivers
By Steve Shaff
Northern Arizona Media Relations
Northern Arizona Media Relations will provide position preview every day leading up to the season opener against Arizona State on Aug. 30. Today: wide receivers. Previously: tight ends.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The development of the Northern Arizona passing game, especially the downfield aspect, will depend on the growth of the receivers in 2012. Under the direction of NAU Hall of Famer and former NFL quarterback Jeff Lewis, the receiver position took strides in the spring, and coach Jerome Souers believes it is ready to be an impact position for the Lumberjacks.
“We had to go through a lot of baptism under fire,” Souers said of the 2011 group. “We had a lot of guys that had not played here before and were in a position to contribute. At times, we looked very good and at times we were inconsistent.”
Khalil Paden graduated after leading the team in every statistical category last season. But junior Ify Umodu, who had 50 catches for 667 yards, and breakout freshman Dejzon Walker both return. Walker was named the program’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year and was tabbed the College Sports Madness Big Sky Freshman of the Year after recording 22 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior Jeremy Dang and Oregon transfer Nick Cole, who was sidelined with an injury after four games last season, are both poised for impact seasons after seeing action last year.
Dang, a Peoria High School product, saw action in all 11 games (three starts) in 2012, recording four receptions for 43 yards. He had a season-high three catches for 40 yards against Northern Colorado. He looks to build on the experience and have a bigger statistical contribution this season.
“I hope to contribute a lot this season,” said Dang. “I have been working hard for four years against the corners. I am going to be able to use my skills on the outside and move it to the inside. I feel like I have an advantage.”
Cole joined the program late last season and was making an impact on special teams before an injury slowed his progress. He made his debut against Eastern Washington on Oct. 8 with one catch for 22 yards.
“It was really disappointing,” said Cole of the injury. “They had me in some packages, and I was really looking forward to it before I hurt my shoulder against Eastern Washington. I came back and stayed focused to keep the group together.”
Junior-college transfer Jesse Brantley will also have an impact on the two-deep after transferring from Scottsdale CC and recording 44 catches for 740 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
“It has the talent,” said Souers of the receiver position. “We have to be consistent, not just with our ability to run routes but blocking downfield. Coach Lewis has done a great job in the spring of raising bar for the expectations of our receiver position.”
The strength of the position might be its depth. Junior Ca’leve Deboskie, sophomores Jesse Bueno and Brandon Babineaux and redshirt freshman Alex Holmes all have been factors in the fall scrimmages. In all, nine players will see action.
“I really think it is going to be a group effort,” said Lewis. “We are so deep and have so many talented guys. I can go up and down the list.”
Lewis, who played in the NFL, has improved the unit by providing unique knowledge to his players from the quarterback perspective and how the plays develop within the Lumberjack offense.
“He has brought a lot of experience and knowledge,” said Dang of his position coach. “He knows the wide receiver as well as the quarterback position. When we watch film, we know what the quarterback is thinking as well as what we should be doing at wide receiver. It gives us an advantage to know the whole concept of the plays.”
Senior quarterback Cary Grossart will have plenty of options to throw to, and Lewis has been impressed by his play.
“Cary is an outstanding quarterback,” said Lewis. “He throws every route really well and throws the deep ball very well. We have some big guys outside that can run it down. It needs to be part of our game.”
The first test will be a tough one against a talented Arizona State group, but the receivers have confidence heading into the first game.
“The entire coaching staff recruited the right guys, the right players and the right athletes,” said Lewis. “As a group, it is outstanding. I see improvements every day. They work extremely hard. It is a great group all around.”