Maurice Stovall reported to Notre Dame in 2002 with a young, thin body and a wealth of expectations.
Stovall didn't surprise many when he immediately pushed for playing time. He excited Irish fans by catching 18 passes, for 312 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman.
His touchdown catch in the Michigan State game in a clutch situation was supposed to be the beginning of many great catches in the future, and landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Nobody was quite sure what was wrong with Maurice Stovall in 2003. He'd make a great play and then follow it with a dropped pass.
Stovall struggled and learned about expectations, even though the expectations were probably unfair.
Stovall said the fall of 2003 was difficult at times. "It was hard for me to deal with at that time," said Stovall of his struggles. "Sometimes you've got to put things behind you and focus on what's next—whether you do good or you do bad. That's something I had to work on."
Stovall says he's forgotten about the past, and focused on the future working very hard in the off-season. "As far as the off-season training goes, I think I've stepped it up a lot. I've gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster. I'm just trying to improve my game overall mentally and physically for next season."
One of the areas that Stovall struggled was being physical and using his body. Stovall said he was thinking too much and that can take away from being physical. "If you're out there thinking about what route you are running or who you are sighting off of, you're actually going to be a lot slower because you're thinking about what to do. It makes it hard to be physical when you're thinking too much. When you are more familiar with the plays and feel more comfortable with the offense, you can react and I think that's where I'm at now."
In a scrimmage on Monday, we watched Stovall use his body to shield defender Carlos Campbell on a fade route to make a wonderful fingertip catch. Stovall believes Irish fans will see more of that this coming season. "I think you'll see a lot of that this year. If you go out and you practice like that, it carries into the game and that is what I'm trying to do. I'll just keep working hard and making plays like that in practice and hopefully it will carry over into the game."
Receivers Coach Trent Miles has also said he's seen a major improvement in Stovall—something Stovall says he likes to hear. "It means a lot. It shows that he sees that I'm trying to improve my game and trying to get better. At the same time, you can't take too much of that. I just need to go out and practice and keep working hard."
In order for Stovall to showcase his talent, he'll need a good season out of quarterback Brady Quinn—something Stovall believes Quinn should have in 2004. "I think Brady feels a lot more comfortable back there. Last year he was a little nervous and he was doing a lot of thinking. I think he's taken a lot more of a leadership role as a quarterback. He's matured a lot and he's getting us the ball on a more consistent basis and on time. It's not always his fault, we need to be on the same page with him."
Stovall's best friend of the team is fellow wide receiver Rhema McKnight. Both talked in 2003 about becoming the best wide receiving duo in the nation. We asked Stovall if that was still the goal for both he and McKnight. "I think Rhema and I have the mindset to be the best in the country. Our goal as wide receivers is to be the best wide receiver group in the nation and win a National Championship. I think we both have the type of work ethic that can get us there."
Expectations are a hard thing for most, and Stovall knows all about expectations. Stovall is still very young as a 19-year old heading into his junior season. It's probably safe to say that Stovall's best football is ahead of him, and that is great news for Irish fans.