Enough Footballs to Go Around?

When wide receiver coach Trent Miles arrived at Notre Dame in the spring of 2002, he was greeted with four wide receivers with very limited experience, and a quarterback turned wide receiver. The group's combined experience included 14 career receptions total. My, how things have changed.

What Miles lacked in the spring of 2002, he's got coming out of his ears in the fall of 2004. Miles now finds himself loaded with experience, talent and numbers among his receiving corps, and he might not enough footballs to go around.

Miles' receivers combined for 113 receptions last year alone, and he's got plenty of potential stars waiting in the wings for their chance to strut their stuff.

"They're all going to play and contribute," Miles said of his vast talent at wide receiver. "They've all worked hard and deserve to play. They'll all have a role in what we're trying to do."

The leader of the receiving corps in both numbers and leadership would be Rhema McKnight. The La Palma, Calif. junior caught 47 passes for 600 yards and three touchdowns in 2004. Miles believes McKnight is ready for an outstanding season.

"Rhema brings a swagger," Miles said. "He brings a confidence that carries over to the group. He brings a toughness to the football field—Rhema's a very, very tough individual. That tends to rub off on everyone else. He helps pick up the tempo of practice and games, and guys try to rise up to his level."

Classmate Maurice Stovall also has vast potential according to Miles. After a year where Stovall struggled catching the football, Miles believes the Philadelphia, Pa. junior is also ready to realize his potential this season.

"He's a lot more mature," Miles said of Stovall. "Sometimes it takes a little longer for guys to mature. He's matured physically, but more importantly, he's matured mentally. His approach to the game, his work ethic is better and he's a lot more focused. To be successful in this business, you need to bring it every day, and that is what he's starting to do."

Another player who looks to ready for a breakout year is sophomore Jeff Samardzija. The 6-5, 215-pound Valparasio, Ind. native starred both in football and baseball this past spring.

"I see Jeff having a big-time role on this team this year," Miles said. "He's a playmaker, he's a tough individual, he's got great hands, body control and he's just a good football player. If he wasn't playing offense, he could play defense. Jeff is really going to help us this year and we're looking for a great season from him.

"I expect him to make a big jump. I think this year will be a year that you'll see an increased role for him."

Like 2002, Miles has another project in quarterback turned wide receiver, Carlyle Holiday. The last time Miles found himself in this situation, Arnaz Battle turned in an outstanding performance catching 58 passes for 768 yards and five touchdowns in his final year.

"It's a similar situation," Miles said of Holiday's senior season. "I think Carlyle has every opportunity athletically and mentally to be able to do what Arnaz did. We're trying to spread the ball around so stats might not reflect it, but I know athletically, his potential and the way he's working, I expect him to be able to do those things."

Collierville, Tenn. senior Matt Shelton also factors into the situation. The 6-0, 175-pound Shelton brings blazing speed to the equation, and Miles says Shelton's speed will play a role in the offense.

"Matt's going to contribute," said Miles. "He's playing well. He's physically stronger and tougher than he's ever been and he's got the speed to go with it. And, he's catching the ball well. He has a role and we need him to contribute to our team."

Waiting in the wings for his first opportunity is sophomore Chase Anastasio. Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick mentions Anastasio often as a player who will be making an impact soon. Miles believes Anastasio has similar skills to McKnight.

"Chase is going to play this year," Miles said of Anastasio. "Chase is a big, strong, tough kid that can really run--Chase is fast. He's got good hands. He's still learning the system, but he'll contribute on offense and special teams. He's an elusive runner—he played running back in high school—that is a tough, tough kid. He's tough like Rhema."

Also hoping to make a splash in his first opportunity of action is freshman Chris Vaughn. At 6-4, 205-pounds, Vaughn has the physical tools to contribute right away. Miles has been really impressed in what he's seen of Vaughn so far.

"Chris has got a great future," Miles said of Vaughn. "He's a big, strong kid that can catch the ball, and he can really run. The best thing about him is that he listens to everything that we're teaching him and he's really working to get it down. He's got a bright, bright future here. He's a very quick learner and he works at it. When you combine that with natural ability, you've got an excellent chance. We're looking for a lot of great things from Chris."

The Irish should have plenty of talent and experience at wide receiver for 2004. What they do need to cure, however, is a case of the drops. A number of Irish receivers dropped too many passes last season. Miles thinks the miscues were a sign of his receivers trying too hard.

"I really think it's a sign of them trying to do too much," Miles said of the dropped passes. "I think it's about thinking about catching the pass and trying to make this guy miss before you have the ball. Just doing too much and you start pressing. You have a game where you losing and you are trying to do too much and you have a drop here and there.

"That's behind us and I don't see that as being a problem this year. You'll see guys being more consistent."

With Stovall at 6-5, Vaughn at 6-4, Samardzja at 6-5, and McKnight and Anastasio all over 6 foot, we asked Miles if he likes his wide receivers of the taller variety.

"I like good receivers," Miles said while laughing. "I don't care if they're big or small. One of the best receivers I've ever been around in my entire life was Terrence Mathis. He played for me at New Mexico and he came out of high of high school as 5-9 and 153 pounds. He had a pretty successful career in the NFL.

"Everyone loves a big, strong guy that can really run, but I just want good wide receivers. I don't care how tall they are."

It appears Miles has plenty of "good" wide receivers already. It just happens that many of them can create mismatches with their height. We cannot remember a time when Notre Dame had this many quality wide receivers on scholarship. Now the challenge for Miles is to find enough footballs to keep them all happy.

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