Northern Arizona Media Relations will provide a position preview every day leading up to the season opener against Arizona State on Aug. 30. Aug. 22: Tight Ends; Today: Wide Receivers; Aug. 24: Offensive Line; Aug. 25: Quarterbacks; Aug. 26: Running Backs/Fullbacks; Aug. 27: Defensive Line; Aug: 28: Linebackers; Aug. 29: Secondary; Aug. 30: Kickers/Schedule.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The development of the Northern Arizona passing game, especially the deep threat, will depend on the growth of the receivers in 2012. Under the direction of NAU Hall of Famer and former NFL quarterback Jeff Lewis, Head Coach Jerome Souers saw the receiver position take strides in the spring and believes it is ready to be an impact position for the Lumberjacks.
"We had to go through a lot of baptism under fire," said Souers of the group in 2011. "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 Offensive Newcomer of the Year of the program and was tabbed the College Sports Madness Big Sky Freshman of the Year after recording 22 catches for 328 yards with three touchdowns.
Dang, a Peoria High School product, saw action in all 11 games in 2012 with three starts, 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 down field. 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 have all 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 growth of his unit by providing unique knowledge to his players from the quarterback perspective and how the plays with 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 is 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 against a talented group in Arizona State but the group has confidence heading into the first game.
"Coach St. Paul and 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."
8 Ify Umodu (6-3, 215, Jr.-2L)
18 Jesse Brantley (6-0, 195, Jr.-TR)
14 Alex Holmes (6-0, 180, Fr.-RS*)
85 Dejzon Walker (6-3, 225, So.-1L)
81 Jeremy Dang (6-3, 210, Jr.-2L*)
87 Jesse Bueno (6-0, 180, So.-SQ*)
6 Nick Cole (6-3, 195, Jr.-SQ*)
84 Brandon Babineaux (6-4, 205, So.-TR*)
17 Ca'leve Deboskie (6-0, 180, Jr.-1L*)