UND searches to replace receivers
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota football team can’t ignore the talent-level discrepancy at wide receiver from 2013 to 2014.
The team’s top four pass catchers are gone, including current Denver Broncos wide receiver Greg Hardin.
That means North Dakota’s wideouts have a different focus this season.
“We have to do the little things to have success,” said wide receivers coach Danny Freund, who’s in his first season coaching the receivers. “We’re preaching details, worth ethic and toughness.
“Losing what we lost from last year and not having those types of athletes on paper right now, the little things are how we’re going to win. We’re just as concerned with what these guys are doing without the ball as we are with the ball.”
Although UND struggled in 2013, the team’s wide receiving corps was one of the best in the Big Sky Conference.
UND was led by Hardin (senior in 2013), sophomore Kenny Golladay (transfer to Northern Illinois), sophomore Jameer Jackson (transfer to Minnesota State-Mankato) and Blair Townsend (senior in 2013).
Those four accounted for 95 percent of the team’s wide receiver catches, 97 percent of the wide receiver yards and 100 percent of the wide receiver touchdowns (15).
“It’s completely different,” UND senior wide receiver R.J. McGill said. “My sophomore and junior years we had a good group, and we all made a name for ourselves. Now, there’s new coaches and new faces. I was interested to see what our position group was going to be like, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”
McGill is expected to be a key part of the solution. The Phoenix, Ariz., native played as a true freshman in 2010 but hasn’t played in a game since midway through the 2012 season when he suffered a knee injury, a setback that forced McGill to miss half of his junior year and then take a redshirt season in 2013.
McGill has more than 800 receiving yards in his career and will be counted on as the leader of an otherwise inexperienced position group.
McGill returned to the practice field last spring, but he said he wasn’t close to 100 percent.
“That was a little iffy,” he said. “But I feel I’m in the best shape right now that I’ve ever been in.”
“He’s a guy who can be a No. 1 type for us,” Freund said. “He’s making catches he hasn’t in the past. He’s had a great attitude and coaching the younger guys.”
Those younger guys are expected to contribute. UND is likely to pull the redshirt on true freshman Brandon Walker, who has been taking most of the repetitions with the No. 1 offense.
UND also is considering removing the redshirt of true freshman Luke Stanley, a sure-handed walk-on out of Wisconsin.
“I can’t say enough good things about those guys,” Freund said. “They’re tough, athletic, smart.”
If McGill and Walker are the top duo at this point, there’s still plenty of playing time that remains up for grabs. However, injuries have prevented some valuable evaluation time.
Three receivers UND expected to vie for playing time — true freshman Dev Ferguson, redshirt freshman Aeron Carr and junior college transfer Miguel Cerriteno — have missed quite a bit of fall camp with injuries. None of the injuries are expected to be long term.
Tyrhe Ivery, a senior, is an intriguing option in the passing game. Ivery played wide receiver early in his career, which included a two-touchdown performance against South Dakota in 2011.
Casey Young and Romon Bridges also return at wide receiver as the only two in the position group to catch passes for UND in 2013.
University of Mary transfer Stetson Carr has turned some heads in fall camp, although the quarterback-turned-wide receiver won’t be eligible until the 2015 season, per NCAA transfer rules. Carr, a Hazen, product, is the brother of UND safety Baylee Carr.