SPRING FOOTBALL: Underclassmen vie for positions

Michael Casagrande

As 80-yard Casey Rooney and Shannon Hayes touchdown receptions fade, a host of Western receivers are competing to fill the void.

Coach David Elson said there is a large group of underclassmen vying for a starting position, but there is still a lot of evaluating to do before kicking off the season.

“It’s hard, I’m not making any judgments yet,” Elson said. “This week, we are going to look at some film and we’ll see after that.”

Tuesday was the first day of live scrimmaging during the spring practice. Three receivers have started to separate themselves from the host of competitors, offensive coordinator T.J. Weist said.

Junior Perez Smith and freshmen Rannen Roberson and Maurice Perkins are on top of the long list. Sophomore Earl Clayton, the top returning receiver from last season, could not practice Tuesday because of class, but he remains in the hunt.

“We need some consistency and toughness,” Weist said. “We haven’t seen the toughness out of this group yet.”

There is still a lot of room to improve, but Weist said he expects this group of receivers to do “the same, or more” than last season’s crop.

Before last season, Elson hinted that the traditional run-oriented Western offense may open up and throw more.

Weist said this season’s offense will be very similar to last season’s, mixing the passes with sophomore running back Lerron Moore.

The development of the receivers will be aided by an experienced and improved freshman quarterback Justin Haddix.

Haddix said that his one year of experience will help to make the learning process of the new receivers a more smooth one.

“I feel more comfortable,” Haddix said. “Instead of thinking what I’m doing on that play, I’m able to look at the defense and reading it. That’s probably the most important thing to do.”

The receivers seem to be excited about the chance to earn a starting spot.

“Right now, it’s a battle,” Perkins said. “Everybody is just pulling hard and fighting for a position.”

Perkins is encountering some of the same difficulties Haddix encountered while making the transition to the college game, but he said he is confident.

“Day by day I’m learning more,” Perkins said. “I’m getting better day by day. Going out there, things are moving kind of fast, but it’s working out pretty well.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].