BYU WR Outlook: Unprecedented Reasons for Optimism

Change is good – especially when <b>ONLY</b> four returning Cougar wide receivers even caught a single pass in 2003. Despite the fact that BYU suffered its unluckiest season with their top two quarterbacks sidelined by broken hands, the combined statistics of the wide receiver corps still revealed harsh realities about their playmaking abilities.

Chris Hale had 33 catches for 286 yards; Rod Wilkerson registered 21 catches for 274 yards; Jason Kukahiko had 11 catches for 139 yards; and Brett Cooper recorded 4 catches for 38 yards. Overall, they totaled 69 catches for 737 yards – a dismal showing for a traditional offensive powerhouse like BYU.

One thing is for certain: These Cougar returnees will be more determined than ever to prove last season was a freak-year anomaly.

To add insult to injury, 97 receivers in the NCAA last season gained more yards on their own than BYU's total 737 yards by all its returning receivers combined. More alarming was the fact that BYU's 69 wide receiver receptions resulted in zero touchdowns.

In fairness to this group, their inferior results were not completely their fault and they are not nearly as bad as their stats may indicate. However, it necessitated that Gary Crowton's coaching staff hit the recruiting trail hard for an immediate and significant upgrade for this critical position.

The end result is that seven junior college and high school receivers were signed in what is considered the best-ever wide receiver recruiting class in BYU football history. Though they have yet to prove they can break BYU's starting rotation, this is what they accomplished last season:

TODD WATKINS, Grossmont Junior College (Calif.) – 40 catches, 915 yards, 8 touchdowns
JOE GRIFFIN, Grossmont Junior College (Calif.) – 47 catches, 901 yards, 7 touchdowns
RILEY WEBER, Glendale Junior College (Ariz.) – 42 catches, 707 yards, 5 touchdowns
MICHAEL MORRIS, Itawamba Junior College (Miss.) – 35 catches, 437 yards, 4 touchdowns
MICHAEL REED, Lee High School (Tex.) – 64 catches, 1,046 yards, 16 touchdowns
AUSTIN COLLIE, Oak Ridge High School (Calif.) – 60 catches, 978 yards, 18 touchdowns
ANTWAUN HARRIS, Garland High School (Tex.) – 38 catches, 820 yards, 11 touchdowns

Overall, BYU's newest class of receiver recruits recorded 326 catches for 5,804 yards and 69 touchdowns.

Though this is a preseason review, here's a breakdown of wide receiver newcomers who may see a playing time in BYU blue this season:

Junior - TODD WATKINS, 6-3, 185 pounds - The first team 2003 JC All-American receiver was the star of the Blue and White spring scrimmage. He has generated the most advance hype about any receiver in BYU history. By many accounts, he may be the most talented wide receiver BYU has ever recruited. He has clocked at 4.28/40 and makes great adjustments to the ball in the air. Watkins will warrant double-team coverage by opponents for the next two seasons.

Junior - MICHAEL MORRIS, 6-1, 182 pounds - Despite missing three games last season due to injury and playing in a run-oriented offense, Morris adds immediate depth and strength as a tough inside receiver who excels at blocking and freeing himself from jams at the line of scrimmage. Coupled with a strong work ethic, Morris also is an excellent leaper, runs well in the open field, and follows precise routes.

Junior - JOE GRIFFIN, 6-3, 215 pounds – Playing in Watkins' shadow last season at Grossmont, Griffin still caught 47 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns. Although not as hyped as his all-everything teammate, he has the size, blocking ability and body control to make a productive impact on the Cougars offense. Griffin is projected as an inside receiver and an excellent red zone quarterback target with his height. With no redshirt available, he will definitely be in the playing mix this fall.

Freshman - AUSTIN COLLIE, 6-1, 180 pounds - Despite being a true freshman, Collie traveled to Provo to work out unofficially with new teammates days after his high school graduation in order to begin working for a spot on BYU's two-deep starting rotation. Collie is considered by recruiting analysts as the most talented LDS receiver recruit anywhere in the last 10 years. It is easy to see why from his senior season totals of 1,654 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns in a tough Northern California league. Crowton likely will not be able to keep his talent off the field this season.

Freshman - ANTWAUN HARRIS, 6-0, 195 pounds - The athletically gifted Harris with 4.4 speed and a 36-inch vertical may be difficult for Crowton to keep off the field considering his overall talent level and game-breaking ability. The sky is the limit for Harris. He only played one year of prep football and still excelled with 38 passes for 820 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Sophomore - CODY FONNESBECK, 5-8, 155 pounds – Sidelined all last season because of injury, track sprint star Fonnesbeck looks like he will be finally ready to contribute as one of the top 10 fasted football players in America. He has a reported 4.20/40. Even with his blazing speed, he has excellent football skills as well. As a high school senior, Fonnesbeck recorded the second most yards ever in one season in Utah prep history with 1,526 yards for 69 catches and 15 touchdowns. Not an every down player, Crowton will likely find a way to get this speedster on the field if he measures up to the competition.

Freshman - MATT ALLEN, 6-1, 180 pounds - A two-time Arizona state high jump champion with a personal best of 6-10, Allen is ready to contribute after completing a mission and redshirting the 2003 season. After playing impressively in practice last fall, Crowton almost pulled his redshirt status of his first wide receiver recruit in 2000 just before the Air Force game. As a senior, Allen caught 57 passes for 992 yards, accounting for 22 total touchdowns.

Junior - DAVID GOOCH, 6-3, 215 pounds - After sitting out last season as a walk-on transfer from Pima Community College, Gooch (BYU defensive back Quinn Gooch's brother) made major strides in cracking the starting rotation in spring ball. His key to success is how he stacks up against the incoming wide receiver talent.

Sophomore - BRETT COOPER, 5-11, 186 pounds - The former Utah 4A 100 meter champion, Cooper is one of the strongest and fastest receivers on the team. This is a make-or-break-year for him with the exceedingly stiff competition he faces. In high school, Cooper was productive with 66 receptions for 1,282 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Junior - RILEY WEBER, 6-1, 180 pounds - Weber has impressed some observers during spring practice with his hands and his aggressiveness in going after the ball. Although he is not considered speedy, he is quick, elusive, runs precise routes and blocks well. Of the talented JC receiver transfers, he is the most likely to redshirt this season to spread out the graduation dates and allow an extra year to bulk up.

Freshman - MICHAEL REED, 6-2, 190 pounds - Reed was the Texas 5A Player of the Year racking up very impressive statistics against superior competition. Reed has a bright future as a Cougar. However, Crowton may choose to redshirt him in order to give him more time learn the offense.

Others to Watch:

Sophomore - MATTHEW SMITH, 6-2, 185 pounds – The former Montana All-State wide receiver has the size to compete.

Freshman - SAIA HAFOKA, 5-10, 180 pounds – Hafoka was recruited the same year from Kahuku High School (Hawaii) as Cougarback Aaron Francisco. He's back from an LDS mission and ready to go.

Sophomore - ZAC COLLIE, 5-10, 175 pounds - Spring practice observers say that Collie may emerge as one of the most pleasant surprises this fall as a walk-on receiver. While he may not have the speed of younger brother Austin, big brother Zac apparently has the hands and moves necessary.

Because of the abundance in talent, don't be surprised if Crowton uses some of these speedsters in other positions to maximize their game-rep opportunities.

The bottom line: is Gary Crowton is able to field an offensive line that consistently holds its own against high profile competition (USC, Notre Dame, Stanford and Boise State) and quarterbacks who deliver with accuracy and poise, there is NO doubt BYU will raise a lot of eyebrows nationally with an offensive game plan manned by the type of collective talent rarely seen in Provo from the boys in blue.

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