Training Days: Hilltoppers relishing depth at wide receiver

Wide receiver Taywan Taylor tries to outrun safety Mitch Lane (38) during the second half of the WKU vs. University of Louisiana Monroe game Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, at Malone Stadium in Monroe, La.

Kyle Williams

With the help of last season’s Hilltopper receiving core, redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty set program records in passing yards, single-game passing yards, completion percentage and single-game completions.

This season, all but one of Doughty’s targets from a year ago have returned, and the Hilltoppers added even more depth in the offseason with four freshman and two junior college transfers.

Following WKU’s 14th fall camp practice on Thursday, wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shepard said the Hilltoppers’ depth at the position has created a sense of competition.

“I’m actually very impressed with how they’re looking right now,” Shepard said. “As a core, we have a lot of depth right now, and that’s given us the opportunity to roll guys. But at the same time, it creates an opportunity for competition. Coaches ask for nothing more than that – competition every day. That way nobody gets complacent.”

The most notable returner this season is redshirt senior Willie McNeal, or “Uncle Willie” as referred to by his teammates. The 5-foot 10-inch, 180-pound Bradenton, Fla. native recorded 46 receptions for 599 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Redshirt senior Joel German, who caught 26 passes for 339 yards last year, is also in the mix this season along with sophomores Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, who combined for 57 receptions and 701 yards as freshmen. Norris hauled in four touchdown receptions.

Taylor said Shepard has been putting an emphasis on perfecting the experience he and the other returners gained last season.

“He’s been emphasizing a lot of things like ball security, quick tug, securing the ball, catching, just running great routes and just being a perfect receiver all around – most of all perfecting our craft,” Taylor said. “That’s what he preaches on a lot.”

Junior college transfers Jared Dangerfield and Antwane Grant have wasted to time making an impact thus far the Hilltoppers. Dangerfield caught a team-high seven passes in the team’s Red and White game this past spring for 106 yards. Grant hauled in two catches in the game, both for touchdowns.

Shepard said the freshman and first-year players are adjusting to the speed and pace of the offense.  

“It’s a little different for all of them,” Shepard said. “We go at a high tempo here, in terms of, we get a lot of plays in. We’re making them finish downfield. Some of the other places they’ve been, they catch the ball and throw it down and go on to the next play. No, I’m chasing those guys down the field and we’re finishing downfield…because that’s what going to happen in a game.”

The Hilltoppers will hold their last public practices of fall camp tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Smith Stadium.