You could almost say the Wyoming offense has been known for its great receivers. Current NFL backups Malcom Floyd (San Diego) and Jovon Bouknight (Tampa Bay) obviously come to mind. Bouknight became the Mountain West Conference's all-time leading receiver as a senior at Wyoming, and Floyd is turning heads early in the preseason as a Charger.
But the Cowboys' pantheon of pigskin-catching idols doesn't end there. There was 1990s star Marcus Harris, a two-time All-American (1995, 1996), who finished his Wyoming career as perhaps the greatest receiver in college football history. With 4,518 career yards (the most in NCAA history at the time), he won the Biletnikoff Award in '96 as the country's top wideout. Harris was preceded by teammate Ryan Yarborough, who racked up 4,357 yards from 1990-93, also garnering two-time All-American honors and currently ranking fourth on the NCAA career receiving list. Then there was the Pokes' All-American tight end and longtime Dallas Cowboys' star Jay Novacek. And that's just scratching the surface.
Now, a current Cowboy is looking to leave his mark on Wyoming football history and earn a place alongside some of the team's all-time greats. Senior Michael Ford needs just 12 catches and 467 yards in 2007 to break into the top ten all time at Wyoming.
Ford should be the most reliable player at the receiver spot for the Pokes this year. He's definitely the most experienced. The top returning starter in the unit, he notched 60 catches and 674 yards in 2006, scoring four touchdowns along the way (the most on the team at any position). The 60 receptions ranked second in the MWC and 39th in the nation.
Playing somewhat in the shadow of more prominent competitors like Bouknight for much of his Wyoming career, Ford proved midway through the ‘06 season that he can be a standout receiver for the Pokes, pulling in 12 catches for 110 yards against Syracuse in the fifth game of the year. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound possession man followed that performance up with 92 yards and a touchdown against Utah. He also grabbed four catches and chalked up 72 yards against Boise State and again at UNLV.
"He is an outstanding player," Wyoming Head Coach Joe Glenn said of Ford this off-season. "He is always there and always making the big play. Knowing that he is at one of those outside spots certainly makes a coach sleep better at night."
Now entering his last season of competition in Laramie, Ford should make sophomore quarterback Karsten Sween sleep better at night as well. After showing flashes of brilliance as a freshman and helping the Cowboys to five wins in their last seven games in '06, Sween will likely be more comfortable with the Pokes' system and his pressure-packed position this season--and Ford will give him a dependable pair of hands.
Wyoming Offensive Coordinator Bill Cockhill talked about Ford's reliability during media day last week.
"Michael's a very good possession receiver," he said. "He can catch the ball in traffic…He'll make the big first downs and the big plays for you."
When asked which receiver's hands he trusted the most, Cockhill hesitated and then responded that he would "have to say" Ford's. "(He's) made a lot of big catches for us."
Still, no matter how reliable those hands are, Ford lacks the kind of break-away speed that both Hoost Marsh and Greg Bolling, his fellow starters at the wide receiver position, have shown. He simply won't blow by many cornerbacks, and his numbers show it. At just 11.2 yards per catch last season, he had the lowest average of any wideout on the team with more than 10 receptions. But getting behind defenses isn't what coaches expect of the big senior anyway. Instead, Ford makes his living exploiting sloppy coverage on short pass plays, running crisp routes and making tough catches while maneuvering through crowded areas.
With Marsh and Bolling primed to log significant minutes in '07, Ford may actually collect more touches this year than ever before. Bolling's speed and athleticism along with Marsh's explosiveness should spread out opposing defenses, opening up passing lanes underneath—and Ford will be the biggest beneficiary.
As improbable as it may sound, look for Ford to blow away his reception totals from a year ago. Barring any unforeseen injuries, the top ten won't be a problem for this guy when it's all said and done.
Ford's 2007 Keys to Success:
1. More TDs. You might think I'm crazy telling you that the squad's leading returning touchdown scorer needs more in '07, but Ford's four end zone trips last season ranked him at 120th in the nation—right behind a women's ivy league lacrosse-champion-turned-tight-end and a DI-AAA paraplegic foreign exchange student from Quebec, I think. No, I'm just joking. Actually, four is not all that bad, but hopefully Sween will take advantage of the senior's size and experience in the red-zone and get the big target more than one score every three games in '07. On a positive note, despite making just two catches for nine yards, Ford did notch a five-yard TD grab on a pass from Sween in yesterday's fall scrimmage. See, these articles do make a difference…even before they're published.
2. Even more receptions. Ford being more productive will work for Marsh and Bolling the same way Marsh and Bolling being more productive will work for Ford. This year's crop of receivers may be the best the Pokes have had as a unit in the Joe Glenn era, and Sween should have multiple targets to throw at on just about every passing down. Even the running backs have shown solid hands. If Ford has big games, opposing defenses will have no choice but to creep up and put pressure on the Cowboys' underneath routes. If that happens, Marsh and Bolling could go crazy, we could go into cardiac arrest and Sween will be dropping the long ball all day long. And while that might be tough on us, it should be great for the Cowboys squad and especially Sween, because…as we all know…chicks dig the long ball.
Ford's '06 stats:
60 catches, 674 yards, 11.2 yards per catch, 40 long, 4 TDs
WRs at a Glance: Michael Ford
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