SALT LAKE CITY — Back in 2008, the Utah football team enjoyed one of its finest collection of receivers ever with the likes of Freddie Brown, Bradon Godfrey, Brent Casteel, Jereme Brooks and David Reed. Those five accounted for 231 receptions, 2,778 yards and 22 touchdowns for a team that went 13-0 and won the Sugar Bowl with a memorable victory over Alabama.
So a couple days ago when Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said this year’s group of receivers had the potential to be as good or perhaps better than the 2008 group, it raised a few eyebrows, especially considering that the Utes lost their top two receivers from last year in Tim Patrick and Cory Butler-Byrd.
“That position group has undergone a major transformation and it is much more talented and a much deeper group than we’ve had in years,” Whittingham said of his receivers.
When a media member asked if it was comparable to the 2008 set of receivers, Whittingham, replied, “That good, or in the big picture and long run, maybe better.”
Second-year receivers coach Guy Holliday is equally bullish on his receivers, saying this year’s group is way ahead of last year’s at this point.
“We’ve improved a lot over this time last year,” Holliday said. “We’re ahead of where we were as a culture at any point last year, even towards the end. Culture goes from the top player on down — it’s not just the top four or five. What I see is every player wanting to compete and play at a high level. They have a willingness to fight through and compete.”
So who are these guys?
One big reason for the optimism is the addition of Darren Carrington II, who joined the program late last month as a graduate transfer after being dismissed from the Oregon Ducks. Besides Carrington, the Utes return two part-time starters from last year in junior Raelon Singleton (27 catches, 4 TDs) and sophomore Siaosi Wilson (15 catches, 2 TDs) and have converted running back Troy McCormick, a couple of other returnees and several newcomers that the coaches are excited about.
Whittingham absolutely gushes about what he’s seen from Carrington the first few days of practice.
“He’s a very special talent,” says Whittingham. “The more familiar and comfortable he gets in the offense, the faster he plays. He’s a tough matchup. He’s got great body control, he’s got length (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), huge hands, big wingspan ... he can go up and get the contested ball. He can make that acrobatic catch up the field.”
Holliday says he hopes to have eight receivers ready for each game and believes it shoudn’t be a problem with the group he has this year, saying, “We have a tremendous amount of depth.”
It starts with Carrington, who Holliday says possesses some skills the receiving corps was lacking last year with his length and ability to change direction. He says Singleton “is a real powerful guy who has deceptive speed,” while Wilson is “more fluid, a route technician who plays with great length.”
Holliday is also high on McCormick, saying he had a solid spring and is off to a great start in fall camp. “He just needs to be more consistent overall,” Holliday says.
Two others in the mix are Demari Simpkins, a 5-10 sophomore from Florida, who caught 19 passes with a touchdown as a true freshman and Samson Nacua, a redshirt freshman from Provo, who Holliday says, “just makes plays.” Also back is Kyle Fulks, who had six catches last year.
The group of newcomers is headed by Josh Nurse, a JC transfer from Blinn Community College, who just joined the team last week, and includes freshmen Bronson Boyd, Tyquez Hampton and Jaylen Dixon from Texas, and Bryan Thompson from Southern California. In all, the Utes have 17 receivers on the roster, the most of any position on the team.
“We have a lot of competition and that’s what you need to be a great receiving corps,” said McCormick, one of a handful of seniors in the group. “We’re just trying to get better as a unit and trying to be great. We want to prove a point this year.”