Aug. 27, 2010
NACOGDOCHES, Texas -
When a team loses three all-conference players, two All-Americans, a former league newcomer of the year, nearly 5,000 yards, 40 touchdowns and two future NFL players, including the school's all-time leader, from the same team let alone the same position, that would be great cause for concern. Well, that is just the position that SFA is in with its receiving corps, all except for the `great cause for concern' part.
The Lumberjacks graduated names like Duane Brooks, Contrevious Parks and Aaron Rhea from last season's conference championship team. That trio produced one of the best numbers in school history. Brooks graduated as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards, and Parks and Rhea have found their way onto NFL rosters. What that group has left in its wake is a relatively young, inexperienced squad who is looking to pick up where last year's group left off. But despite this fact, there is no 24-hour suicide watch for J.C. Harper or any of his offensive coaches.
"When we brought these guys in to fall camp last season we planned on playing them in their first," said outside receivers coach Todd Schonhar. "They were that talented as freshmen that we knew they could help this team. Like (offensive coordinator Shannon) Dawson always says we believe that we have eight starters at receiver at all times. With our fast paced offense we want to have two guys that we can rely on at each position."
The 'Jacks' top returning target from last season is sophomore Gralyn Crawford. The Palestine, Texas native was one of the top freshmen in the conference last season. He hauled in 51 passes for 785 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Crawford also holds the distinct honor of recording the team's first touchdown reception of the 2009 season against SMU. For most coaching staffs the loss of so much talent would cause many sleepless nights, but not at SFA.
"We lost a lot of guys at receiver this past year," said Harper following the team's spring game in April. "But we have brought in some extremely talented guys who are waiting for their chance to prove what they can do. I'm really about the talent that we have at this position. We have some really exciting players to watch."
Crawford enters the season list as the starter at the Y, and is backed up by junior Brandon Scott. The Texas City product played in 12 games and caught 24 passes for 273 yards and five touchdowns.
"Gralyn and Brandon have been in the system for awhile so I've really counted on those guys to be leaders," said inside receivers coach Jake Willingham. "They have accepted that role and become leaders with their actions on the field and their playmaking ability. Both players have had a really good camp. It is good to have guys that you can rotate in and out of that caliber.
"Gralyn has great foot work. He does great of working through defenders and catching the ball in traffic. The sky is the limit for Gralyn, it all depends on how much he wants to do, while Brandon is the strongest of the group. There is more to playing receiver than just catching the ball. Brandon is the best blocker among the receivers. We've got to be able to block guys that are bigger than us Scott does that better than anyone on the team," added Willingham.
A familiar name to SFA fans appears to be the front runner at the H position. Redshirt freshman Mike Brooks, younger brother of the departed Duane Brooks, is currently listed first on the depth chart at the H, followed by defensive back convert Vencent Finley.
"Mike has had a great camp," said Willingham. "Going into the spring we were able to get him a lot of reps, because at that time the H was a bit of a question mark, but he has really done a fine job. He is a former high school quarterback, so he really understands the game and is very athletic.
"Fenley is currently number two behind Mike. He was a receiver in high school, so we feel comfortable by moving him there. He is a really good blocker, and at that position you have to be a good blocker or you can't play. It's has been a bit of a transition but he is getting better every day. It just going to take some time," added Willingham.
On the outside the Lumberjacks will look to two of the more dynamic players on the roster in 6-3, 192-pound Cordell Roberson and Schertz native Anthony Foster. Both players saw sporadic action throughout the 'Jacks' 2009 championship run, but both made valuable use of their time.
Roberson the season with 380 receiving yards and four touchdowns, which to the naked eye would appear to be modest stats, but those stats become more impressive when you consider that he average 19 yards per reception. All four of his touchdown receptions went for at least 49 yards.
"Cordell is a lot fast than he looks," said Schonhar. "He is a tall, lanky kid who has the ability to make the incredible catches. He has done a good job during the offseason of getting stronger, and we really look for him to progress throughout his career. Cordell gives us the ability to really stretch the field against defenses."
Although Foster only caught 10 passes for 70 yards last season, he really came on for SFA late in the year. Not quite the size of Roberson, Foster also has the ability to stretch the defense with his impressive speed.
"Anthony is one of the fastest guys on the team," said Schonhar. "He is a very versatile athlete who has another gear. Anthony will be holding the position this year that Duane (Brooks) played for us last season, so he is going to have an opportunity to catch plenty of passes this season. Anthony is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball."
Only a junior on the roster, 6-1, 187-pound Garret Williams is already the grandfather of the 'Jacks' extremely young stable of receivers. Williams is a solid option who has spent time at every wide out position during his career. Currently listed second on the depth chart behind Foster, he will be joined by rookies Ayron Morgan, Jeremy Chappelle and Caleb Summerville at that outside receiver position.
Ryan Gambel is another option SFA will have the option of turning to when they use their tight end packages. Gambel doesn't have the blazing speed that others on the SFA roster have but he is a big target (6-3, 208 pounds) who has the ability to make the tough catches in traffic.
The 2010 crop of receivers comes up well short in terms of experience when compared to their last year's team. But in SFA spread offense if the 'Jacks are going to repeat this group will have a lot to say about it.