2004 BYU Football Preview: Wide Receivers

<b>TODD WATKINS</b>

You would have to be in possession of half a brain NOT to know that <b>Gary Crowton</b> and his assistants' No. 1 recruiting priority on national signing day this past February was an immediate and significant upgrade to BYU's wide receiver corps. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Widely considered the best-ever wide receiver recruiting class in Cougar history, Crowton is expected to rotate as many as five of his seven incoming junior college and true freshman receivers this season.

This fresh blood joins a bevy of experienced BYU receivers who, though injured at times, were depressingly underwhelming as a unit last season. Toby Christiansen, a departed senior, was the lone bright spot at wideout.

ESTABLISHED RETURNEES:

Experienced returnees who have shown they can contribute substantially include Chris Hale, Rod Wilkerson and Jason Kukahiko.

Kukahiko, a 6-1, 190 pound senior, saw action the past two seasons, but his production was severely hampered last year by injury. He has good size and great hands and knows the offense as well as anyone. If he remains healthy, look for him to rebound with a productive final season in Provo.

Wilkerson, the 6-2, 190 pound senior, was a highly-touted high school defensive back converted by Crowton in 2001 to wide receiver to utilize his blazing 4.2/40 track-speed and to establish a legitimate deep threat for the Cougars.

Wilkerson has shown flashes of brilliance, yet has struggled with consistently catching deep balls in critical situations. He hopes to permanently shred the informal "50/50" moniker his teammates jokingly gave him; a reference to his chances of catching the long yardage bombs deep downfield. His less-than-stellar performances are no joking matter to him, however.

In his defense, Wilkerson did a better job last season, but was limited by a nagging cartilage knee injury. He's healthy now and he's back for one final go-around. Like Kukahiko, Wilkerson has the offense down, but must emerge a leader in the six wide receiver rotation Crowton likes to employ.

Hale, a 5-9, 175 pound junior, returned from his LDS mission prior to last season and was immediately dubbed the No. 1 preseason favorite wide receiver target of the quarterbacks from off-season conditioning workouts.

Though he was the most consistent of the returning receivers last season, Hale did not live up to or play to his billing. The combination of his inability to consistently and quickly separate himself from defenders and the BYU quarterbacks' ineffectiveness in getting him the ball when he was open said it all.

Amid all the hype and preseason posturing about the incoming talent, Kukahiko, Wilkerson and Hale should not be overlooked. They are mainstays who are determined to re-establish themselves in fall camp against the stiffest competition they've faced yet.

JUNIOR COLLEGE NEWCOMERS:

Some will become instant stars and contribute right away. Some are very talented wildcards that will require seasoning before they contribute in a big way. What is certain is that several JC newcomers will surprise some unsuspecting opponents and help re-establish BYU as a perennial NCAA offensive juggernaut again in the next two years.

One name already reigns supreme in a crowded field of wannabe star receivers: TODD WATKINS. Watkins has been informally and unofficially coronated king of the heap before he even takes his first game snap for the Cougars. He is the real deal and an absolute steal for Crowton on national signing day.

At 6-3, 185 pounds with 4.29/40 speed, Watkins has the size, speed and game-breaking receiver athleticism rarely – if ever – seen before in BYU blue.

A first-team JC All-American from Grossmont College, Watkins gambled on BYU with the promise that he would be a significant part of the offense if he proved himself. He eliminated all doubt in spring practice, the Blue & White spring scrimmage and in off-season workouts with his stunning play and exceptional work ethic.

Another mid-year transfer who has also impressed coaches and teammates is Michael Morris, a 6-1, 182 pound JC receiver from Itawamba Community College (Miss.). He is smaller than Watkins, but has already shown some of the same game-breaking abilities. Though he is not in the same constellation as Watkins, Morris will likely be a future star in Crowton and Bradford's six-player starting rotation.

The Cougar fan curiosity meter on incoming JC transfer Joe Griffin, the second-half of Grossmont's record-breaking receiver tandem with Watkins' last year, is all over the scale.

At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Griffin does not have Watkins' blazing speed, but his game performances were as impressive as Watkins last season. He was also named Grossmont's offensive player of the year. Griffin reportedly has great leaping ability and is a sure-handed receiver who will provide a substantial boost to the Cougars wide receiver depth.

Although he was also a mid-year transfer, JC wide receiver Riley Weber, a 6-1, 190 pounder from Glendale Community College (Ariz.), is expected to redshirt.

FRESHMAN NEWCOMERS:

After watching Austin Collie run routes in off-season workouts, there seems little doubt he will be a significant contributor this fall as a true freshman.

Collie, at 6-1, 185 pounds, is considered the best LDS wide receiver prospect in the country over the last 10 years. Little wonder he was also named the Northern California MVP of the Year last season in ANY position. That speaks volumes when you consider the exceptional talent recruited nationally at all positions from this talent-rich area.

He is as smooth and as polished a receiver as one could imagine in a just-graduated high school athlete. Not only does Collie possess great skills running routes, but is an exceptional athlete with above-average speed.

Other true freshmen drawing early rave reviews are Texans Antwaun Harris and Michael Reed.

Harris played varsity prep football last year for the first time as a senior after changing sports as a star basketball point guard. In just one season as a game-breaking star wide receiver, Harris showed incredible athleticism and acrobatic receiving skills. Harris and Collie may emerge this fall as the class of this year's freshman recruiting class.

Harris' hype is impressive when you consider that fellow Texan Michael Reed was named to Texas' All-State 5A team, where you generally find the best-of-the-best in this recruiting goldmine of a state. He was another steal for BYU on national signing day.

At 6-2, 190 pounds, there has been even been talk of switching Reed to tight end – a la Daniel Coats – where he is projected as a future star.

DON'T FORGET THESE BUDDING STANDOUTS:

Other returning receivers who add great depth to BYU's wide receiver rotation will be Matt Allen, who impressed coaches with his scout team play last year after he returned from an LDS mission. Allen, at 6-0, 180 pounds, may earn a spot in the six-player rotation this fall.

Cody Fonnesbeck, a 5-8, 155 pound sophomore, is the fastest player on the team and one of the stars on BYU's track team. He missed last season because of a season-ending injury in preseason fall camp. Though his height is a factor, Fonnesbeck is back and anxious to prove himself again.

David Gooch, the brother of current Cougar defensive back Quinn Gooch, played impressively in spring practice performed well in the Blue & White scrimmage. At 6-3, 210 pounds, he has good size and runs great routes.

Last but certainly not least are two walk-on receivers who may defy the odds and become future wide receiver standouts – freshman Zac Collie (6-0, 185 pounds), Austin's older brother, and sophomore Matthew Smith (6-2, 185 pounds).

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