PROVO — Before his retirement from the Canadian Football League more than one year ago, Ben Cahoon was king of the CFL highlight film.
Through consistency and a dogged work ethic, the 5-foot-9 Cahoon became the CFL's all-time leader in receptions during his 13-year career, and he established a reputation for making spectacular catches look almost routine. His legacy lives on thanks to YouTube.
So it's understandable that it takes a lot to impress Cahoon, who's in his second season as BYU's receivers coach. He has high standards.
Last season, wide receivers Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo combined to catch 95 passes for 1,396 yards and 19 touchdowns. The 6-4 Hoffman had a host of memorable receptions, including a one-handed TD catch against Hawaii, and a leaping, juggling grab between two defenders at Oregon State. He also had three touchdowns against Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, including the game-winner with 11 seconds remaining. The 6-3 Apo, meanwhile, set a school record for most touchdown catches by a freshman.
Overall, though, Cahoon was not satisfied with the performances from the Cougars' pair of tall, athletic wideouts.
"Neither met the expectations," he said. "Cody made some huge plays out there, as did Ross. But we didn't catch the ball like we need to. I think there was improvement as far as being in the right spot at the right time and running our routes, but there's already significant improvement there as well this year. If we can get where we need to be and catch the ball, then make our quarterback look like a hero, then we've done our job. We didn't do that to the level we needed to last year."
Apparently, Hoffman got the message. During spring ball, he caught 40 straight passes before dropping his first one last week.
Cahoon knows the importance of honing the craft of being a receiver.
"Repetition is key. The less thinking we do out there, the more ingrained guys are in the offense," he said. "The less thinking they do, the faster they play. We need to maximize all the speed we can. Hopefully, simplification as well as volume and repetition will allow us to be real comfortable with the offense and play fast ... We need to catch the ball better. That's our primary job. We need to improve our blocking as well. Technically, our routes have improved a lot, but there's still a ways to go there, too. There's a lot to improve on — everything."
When it comes to becoming a consistent, sure-handed receiver, Cahoon could write a book on the subject.
"Repetition definitely plays into it. It's a lot mental," Cahoon said. "It's confidence. It's anticipation, being on the same page with the quarterback, knowing when the ball's going to arrive. But also it's just doing it enough that you're not thinking about it. If you're out there thinking, 'I need to catch this ball' or 'I hope I don't drop this ball,' then you're toast. It's just a confidence that comes from doing it over and over again, knowing that you want the ball. Just begging for that ball every single play. So it's a mindset which comes from confidence and repetitions and just making plays."
Hoffman is a proven play-maker, but how good can he be?
"He can be an excellent receiver. I think he knows that," Cahoon said. "He sees that he's got a chance to be an impact player on this team, in this country. If he continues to work hard and stay healthy, he's going to have a chance to go to the NFL. Saying that, he knows he has a lot to work on in order to get there. I've seen that he's committed to it."
Apo, who underwent shoulder surgery recently, is looking to get healthy for this fall.
"Ross works his butt off. I love him for it," Cahoon said. "He runs good routes and he comes off the ball as well as anybody. He needs to catch the ball better. Maybe this summer, where he can't work out quite as hard, he can concentrate on catching a bunch of balls and getting his confidence back."
Not surprisingly, Cahoon has an affinity for diminutive receivers like himself. He showered praise on 5-foot-8 JD Falslev, who had 31 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns last season.
"He catches everything, and that's the standard," Cahoon said. "If you're going to be short, you've got to do that, especially with all of the tall freaks that we have on this team. If you're a short guy, you'd better catch everything. And he did last year. His role grew as he became more reliable and dependable. Guys wanted to create plays for him and the quarterbacks wanted to go to him. He breaks on a dime, he's very hard to cover underneath with his quickness. He's a possession receiver. If there's one guy that really exceeded or met my expectation, it would be JD last year."
Then Cahoon smiled.
"I show favoritism," he added, "for the short guys."