Maye could hold the key for Gophers offense

MINNEAPOLIS — He’s been compared to Wes Welker by his teammates and coach, referred to as “shifty” and been known to have “a little wiggle to him.” However you want to define Gophers wide receiver K.J. Maye, one thing is clear: the sophomore has some skills.

When Maye came to the University of Minnesota last year, his position was simply listed as “athlete,” meaning he was capable of playing several different spots on the field but had yet to figure out which position would suit him best at the college level. A quarterback at Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala., Maye transitioned to wide receiver and running back last year as a freshman, as well as a kick returner.

But entering this year’s spring practices, the Gophers said Maye will be used as a wide receiver, allowing the 5-foot-10, 197-pound Maye the opportunity to finally devote his time to one position.

“It’s more comfortable knowing I’m going to play receiver and getting to know the offense better,” Maye said Tuesday after the Gophers’ fourth practice of spring ball. “Coming into spring, I know that I had to work on getting open and playing how I play. I was kind of nervous last year, trying to get the feel of playing receiver. Now I’ve got the feel of it.”

Maye has settled into his role as the Gophers’ slot receiver, the same position Welker plays in the NFL. Maye also listed former West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin as a player he admires, and said he’s a big fan of former Vikings slot receiver Percy Harvin, who was traded to Seattle this winter.

The Gophers are currently big fans of Maye, who has impressed head coach Jerry Kill through the first several practices of the spring.

“He’s a competitive kid,” Kill said. “You consider his type of body type like a Wes Welker-type guy, getting in the slot and making things happen, using his speed. You can do a lot of things with K.J.”

Maye wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. had him listed as a two-star recruit, and his other offers besides Minnesota came from schools like Jacksonville State, Louisiana Tech and South Alabama. So when the Gophers came calling, Maye headed north from Alabama to Minneapolis.

It didn’t take long for Maye to get his feet wet at Minnesota, as he played in 13 games as a true freshman. The Gophers used him in a variety of packages on offense. He ran the ball 17 times for 57 yards and also had 11 catches for 49 yards. While he didn’t return many kicks a year ago — just eight for an average of 22.2 yards per return — he’ll likely do more of that this season.

But Minnesota will mainly be counting on him to catch passes and help bolster a wide receiver corps that loses its top player from a year ago. With many unproven wide receivers fighting for playing time this spring, Maye has emerged as one of the top targets for sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson.

“He has great, great route recognition. He runs great routes. He can catch the ball. He just has a little wiggle to him,” Nelson said of Maye. “I don’t even know how to explain it. He just has that Wes Welker type move. We like getting him in there in the slot and letting him kind of decipher the defense himself and giving him an option route. Once he gets the ball, he can run with it and break tackles. He’s a playmaker, and that’s what he brings.”

Just like Nelson gained valuable experience by playing quarterback as a true freshman, so too did Maye at the wide receiver position. Now he’s hoping it pays dividends this spring and beyond.

“Being on the field, getting some playing time, getting those opportunities last year to be on the field as a freshman really gave me a good experience and I felt like it gave me an advantage,” Maye said. “I feel like I’m a smarter player now.”

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