One of the most iconic Apple Cup plays in WSU history came courtesy of Chris Jackson, who began his football career at Orange Coast College. Mike Price also landed Milton Wynn and Marcus Williams out of the JC ranks, and sent them on to NFL careers. The WSU JC wideout includes Sammy Moore, and just about every YouTube clip of great plays in Cougar history includes highlights of Ol’ Sammy. Nakoa McElrath broke every single season receiving record in his short Cougar career. Those records were broken a few years later by Vince Mayle, another JC diamond in the rough unearthed by Mike Leach. He's now playing for the Dallas Cowboys on Sundays.
Indeed, the Cougars have repeatedly struck gold from the JC ranks at the receiver position. There is good reason for this: junior college wide receivers are generally overlooked in the world of recruiting, despite it being a talent-rich position. How many Pac-12 level receivers have been unable to fully showcase their abilities in high school because they did not play in a passing offense, or have a great quarterback throwing them passes?
Still, isn’t the fact Winston only had one Power 5 offer, from Wazzu, cause for concern? Not in my book.
The vast majority of Power 5 schools fail to consistently recruit junior college receivers. There is a perception the position takes longer to master than others, that it takes time to build chemistry with quarterbacks. JC’s are more relied upon to fill in the gaps on D, or to grab that speedy running back. Consider that WR talents like Steve Smith, Chad Ochocinco and Jordy Nelson were lucky to get one or two offers coming out of junior college.
Winston fits this profile perfectly to me.
He was not in a prolific passing offense in high school. Nor did he possess many tangibles that jump off the charts. At 5-11, 185 pounds he is considered undersized for the position in 2016 as a second-year sophomore. At his high school weight of 145 pounds, he was written off completely.
To be sure, there have been plenty of explosive wideouts through the years who did not have NFL prototype frames. But generally speaking, those guys play slot receiver/bubble screen roles or some sort of hybrid scat back. Winston doesn’t fit that niche at all. He is a pure receiver, and an outside receiver at that.
Winston’s JUCO highlight reel (included below) is not filled with gravity-defying one-handed grabs or toe-scratching sideline catches, the things that get you noticed. Winston’s tape is comparatively boring. Catch after catch. Route after route. It is the same thing over and over.
But he gets open because he ran the route so precisely. He makes the easy catch because he tracked the ball perfectly from the start. After watching him for a while, the little things start to stand out. He is hard to tackle clean. He protects the ball. He sticks his blocks. He always seems to know where the first down marker is, and he doesn’t surrender yards he has already gained.
These “little things” are very hard to teach. Winston already looks like a veteran at them. And they are precisely what led him to produce the gaudy numbers he has for the past two seasons at City College of San Francisco: 133 catches, 2,157 yards and 24 touchdowns don’t happen by accident.
About the only thing I haven’t seen Winston do on the tape is brag. Catch after catch, you don’t see him talking trash to his defender. He isn’t spiking the ball, or dancing for the crowd. After every reception the first thing Winston looks for is an official to hand the ball so he can line up and do the same thing all over again. How do you not want a guy like that on your team?
Winston has a long way to go before he starts breaking records like his JC predecessors did. Heck, with as much talent as WSU projects to have at receiver in 2017, it will be a tall task just to crack the depth chart. But I like his skill set and I love his attitude. Leach and Co. obviously did too.