Depth, Speed and Reliable Hands

Since Head Coach Gary Darnell took over, as the head coach of the Western Michigan University Broncos one thing has become a constant where the Broncos offense is concerned. When the Broncos take the field their wide receiver unit will be deep. So, to most people, it comes as no surprise that the Broncos only lost one starter (Jermaine Lewis).

The Broncos head into the season with a group of receivers that go more than 4 deep and that is including the 3 freshmen that will join the team in August. The Broncos have four seniors that will be playing in their final season as Broncos; Antonio Thomas, Kendrick Mosley, Brandon Johnson and Chris Chestnut.

Thomas returns as one of the three starters on a squad that has 6-10 potential starters. Thomas led the team with 45 receptions for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. During the Broncos Brown and Gold spring game earlier this month, Thomas caught three passes for 94 yards and one touchdown. His biggest catch was a 56-yard pass play that went for a touchdown.

Right behind Thomas is Chestnut. Chestnut is also of starter quality, but because of the depth of this group and because the Broncos more of a one-back offense with two tight ends, he is used primarily on the second team. Chestnut finished the 2002 season with 21 catches for 307 yards. During the spring game he caught 4 passes for 37 yards. One of the things Chestnut has shown is he is dependable.

Chestnut brings a strong work ethic to the team. When asked about his play and his effort to catch everything that comes his way Chestnut said, "I just want to catch the ball. Anything that comes my way I try to catch it and I work every day on the Jugs right before I come in here and catch the balls. Even when we catch a punt I have a coach throw me a ball every time. Just working on the hands."

It doesn't matter where the ball is thrown or who is around him, Chestnut will lay out to haul in the pass to keep the Broncos moving downfield. "To be honest with you, I don't care who is on the defense, if and who comes up, no matter who's playing. I don't have no fear against nobody so I'd go out there and run around," he said.

The second of the three starters should be Mosley. Mosley will be the Broncos go-to guy. While he had to play behind the likes of Steve Neal and Jermaine Lewis during his career at Western Michigan, Mosley continues to excel athletically. Along with his athleticism comes his speed, which allowed him to gain 507 yards on 37 catches last season. He scored 3 touchdowns and let the team with an average of 56.3 yards a game, despite missing the first three games of the 2002 season. During April's spring game Mosley caught 5 passes for 34 yards.

Filling in behind Mosley will be Johnson. Johnson had perhaps the toughest season of his career at Western Michigan University during the 2002 season. In the 12 games he played in, Johnson caught just 7 passes for 51 yards. For one reason or another, Johnson had a difficult time working out whatever challenges he was having to be able to hold on to the ball when it was thrown to him. Johnson spent a lot of time over the winter working on his hands and catching the ball and during the spring practice the difference was like night and day. Johnson had a good spring and was catching just about everything that was thrown to him. During the spring game he caught 3 passes for 19 yards.

Junior Tyrone Walker should ultimately secure the final starting position this summer. Walker made a name for himself last season as a wide receiver and as a special teams kick returner. Walker returned two kickoff's last season for touchdowns, including the opening kickoff against Eastern Michigan. In that same game, it was his 56-yard gain on a pass completion from Chad Munson that set up another game-winning field goal by Robert Menchinger. For the season Walker caught 6 passes for 115 yards. He also returned 13 kickoffs for 426 yards and two touchdowns. His 100-yard return against Eastern Michigan tied a school record.

Walker plans on staying in Kalamazoo over the summer to get ready for the 2003 season. "All I can do is just try to keep working hard, get in that weight room, stay over this summer and come August I'm ready to go." Walker continued, "basically, what I am going to do to improve is I'm going to relax, stay focused and try to take any opportunity that comes my way and just try to do the best I can with it."

Walker has a good reason to stay in town and continue to workout during the summer. The reason being Kalamazoo Central's own redshirt sophomore Greg Jennings is making a strong statement of his own. Jennings was getting into a groove last season before being injured and was forced to sit for 4 games. Perhaps the play that made people stand up and take notice was in the game against Purdue. Jennings took a kickoff and scampered 76 yards downfield. If it wasn't for him not being able to get past the wall of his own teammates, he may have run the kickoff return in for a touchdown.

In the 8 games Jennings played in he made 10 catches for 138 yards. He also returned 8 punts for 58 yards and 8 kickoffs for 232 yards. During the spring game he caught 5 passes for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Also returning for the Broncos this season is redshirt sophomore Osborne Curtis and redshirt freshmen Justin Lemay, Joe Chapple and Portage Northern's own Mike Slater. During the off-season Slater moved from quarterback to wide receiver because of the depth at quarterback.

Joining the Broncos in August will be freshmen Brian Jackson, Kelly Martin, Antwain Allen and Jermaine Copeland. Jackson comes to WMU from J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan. Martin is finishing up his high school at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Indiana. Martin ran the 40 in 4.56 at the Nike Camp. Allen comes from Chicago, Illinois where he will be graduating from Kenwood Academy High School, he brings along with him his 4.55 speed and chose the Broncos over three Big Ten schools. Copeland is the third and final recruit from the State of Georgia to choose WMU this season. Copeland is perhaps one of the fastest recruits signed this year with a timed 40 speed of 4.38. There is at least one person on the 2003 Broncos football team that Copeland will know, that person being his high school teammate at Lovejoy High School, DeRae Allen.

With such a group of talented receivers, add in the offensive line, the running backs, tight ends and quarterback and teamwork is an absolute necessity. Walker put it in a different was during spring practice, "I think the biggest thing coming into this spring was chemistry. We had chemistry but we didn't have that team chemistry that you need to win a championship. I think right now we have chemistry, everything is clicking, the o-line is blocking, the quarterbacks are making the right reads and we are catching the ball and getting it into the endzone."

Chestnut felt that the receivers needed to "be more consistent as receivers, last year we didn't make some big plays that we should have made in a couple of games. Like Coach Rock says, it's all on the receivers. So, we take that and we run with it. This spring we're showing up real well."

Offensive Coordinator Brian Rock took over coaching the receivers during the off-season. He added what he felt the receivers needed to work on, "well obviously we dropped a bunch of balls that to me there's no excuse for dropping footballs. I thought we did not have the route precision and the attention to detail." Coach Rock continued, "we said we're just a talented group of guys and we'll go out and make plays and see what happens. But, it doesn't work that way. They got to be very technically sound and they got to pay attention to detail if they're going to be successful and then the talent things will work themselves out. I wanted them to be a little bit more disciplined. I wanted them to be a little bit more consistent as far as work ethic and obviously catch footballs."

While Coach Rock can only do so much, it is the receivers who perform on the field. It helps when you have a strong group of leaders to pave the way for the younger guys and right now that group of leaders is the seniors on the team. "We got four seniors who do a great job of leadership, Kendrick Mosley and Antonio Thomas and Brandon Johnson," Coach Rock told us. "If I had to say who were the three leaders of the unit, it's probably those three. Those guys have been around, this is their fifth year coming up, they all came in together, they're good players and they work their butts off. I think all the younger guys follow their lead and hopefully we can develop a few more to be just like those guys."

When asked what personal goals they have set for themselves this season, Walker said, "I want to get that All-MAC baby." Chestnut responded with, "just to go out and have a good season, my last season here. I was at JUCO for two seasons, playing my first year at Division One football last year and this is going to be my last year. So, I look to have a good season. I have some high goals set from myself and take it from there."

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