published Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Unproven receivers can make difference for UTC

While it may be better to give than receive, an unproven group of pass catchers are looking to give the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offense a shot in the arm by receiving more.

The Mocs' two leaders in receptions last season were tight end Faysal Shafaat and running back Marquis Green, who combined for nearly as many yards (606) as all returning receivers combined (627). While Shafaat and Green are back this year, the Mocs have spent the offseason focusing on developing a receiving corps capable of stretching defenses.

"We had a very low percentage of connecting on deep passes last year," receivers coach Will Healy said. "That's something we spent a lot of time talking about, and we knew we had to get better at that. We've got to be able to get vertical for some big plays, because we're going to run the ball well enough that when we play-action pass we have guys now on the outside who can get behind the secondary.

"It's a position that's under the radar, definitely. The first thing I showed them in our first team meeting was that we don't have a single guy with any type of preseason accolade. That's probably about the only position on the team without it, and that put a chip on their shoulder. This group of receivers has the talent that we're not just trying to survive with them, we're calling on them to be the difference makers to help us win football games."

UTC averaged 6.9 yards per pass play last year, with just three games of 200-plus yards through the air.

But while this year's receiver corps is younger -- Tommy Hudson is the only senior, and the rest of the rotation likely will consist of three sophomores and three freshmen -- there is a noticeable upgrade in the depth of speed and playmakers.

Sophomores C.J. Board and Xavier Borishade have consistently made catches of 10-plus yards during preseason practice and scrimmages, and classmate Riley Davis is sure-handed, while freshmen Alphonso Stewart and Wil Young are big targets (both 6-3, 190) with the speed also to be deep threats.

"The biggest difference is competition," Healy said. "We've signed some really good receivers the last couple of years, and those guys understand if they don't come out and give their best and make plays there's somebody right behind them who will take their job.

"That's something we haven't had in a while. It's been a breath of fresh air for me, because competition makes everybody better."

Add former Bradley Central all-state receiver James Stovall, who is close to returning to the field after offseason shoulder surgery, and offensive coaches believe the depth of talent at the position should help the Mocs be more balanced. Stovall, a redshirt freshman, is also one of 10 receivers, of a group of 11, who have at least three seasons left to play.

"We haven't been a big passing team the last few years, but that's something we feel like we can change this year," said Hudson, who led all UTC receivers with 28 catches for 261 yards and scored one TD last year and is also one of the top punt returners in FCS. "I've got to help the young guys develop, because we have a lot of true or redshirt freshmen who haven't played a college snap yet.

"I've tried to teach them that it's a lot different than high school. Everybody's good. Everybody's fast. You're not going to be the superstar right off the bat: You have to work hard and prove yourself. The talent is definitely there, and I feel like we're going to have a lot more big plays as a group."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

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