PROVO — Despite losing record-breaking receiver Cody Hoffman to graduation, BYU coaches are excited about this year’s group of wide receivers.
The excitement began in earnest last February when the Cougars signed Nick Kurtz (Grossmont JC), Trey Dye (Abilene, Texas) and Devon Blackmon (Riverside CC) and announced that UTEP receiver Jordan Leslie intends to transfer to Provo.
That enthusiasm has continued into the spring, where position coach Guy Holliday has received some solid production despite the absence of several players projected to make major contributions in the fall.
Blackmon, Dye and Leslie haven't yet arrived on campus, while experienced players such as Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo have sat out because of injuries.
So who is getting the first-team reps these days?
They have belonged primarily to a couple of relative unknowns in walk-ons Colby Pearson and Kurt Henderson. Henderson, in particular, has been one of quarterback Taysom Hill's top targets in most practice sessions and led the team with six catches for 74 yards in the Cougars' open scrimmage last Saturday.
The 6-foot-1 junior has allowed his experience and hard work to set him apart this spring.
“Kurt is benefiting from being here,” said Holliday. “Kurt is what I’d call a classic hard-working overachiever. He can run, Kurt can really run, but sometimes it’s not about how talented you are. It’s really about what you know and how well you learn the game. Kurt right now is proving that he understands the game.”
What's perhaps most important is Henderson proving his understanding of the game to his quarterback, Hill.
“Paramount is your confidence you have in your quarterback and the confidence he has in you,” Henderson said. “He has to believe you’re going to beat the guy on you and make the play, and so anytime I can build that confidence then it helps build the foundation of making big plays for this offense.”
Despite the gains he's made this spring, the Saint George native understands that competing for playing time at BYU is an ongoing process.
“I don’t look at spring as arriving anywhere or achieving anything because there’s always going to be competition,” Henderson said. “On a positive note, I think I’m showing that I can be there when the ball comes my way. But it’s all about keeping on working hard and rising to every challenge in order to help the team.”
As for the other receivers that are playing this spring, Holliday likes what he's seen. A lot of attention has been on Kurtz, a player many viewed as the program's top recruit this past year.
Despite a somewhat slow start, Holliday believes the 6-foot-6 Kurtz will be fine and has shown all the abilities that made him such a big recruit in the first place.
“He has a skill set,” Holliday said. “(He has) great feet and hips, which we saw, and an ability to catch the ball. He has to improve his strength because it’s affecting his endurance.”
Holliday believes that endurance will come as he simply spends more time in the program.
“With the summer under his belt, he’ll be ready to go by the season,” Holliday said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s just a little bit thin right now.”
Another standout this spring has been sophomore Michael Davis, who saw time playing cornerback last season as a true freshman. The 6-foot-1 speedster has shown flashes of what he's capable of despite enduring a sprained ankle that set back his conditioning and acclimation to the offense, according to Holliday.
“He’ll play to his speed as he gains knowledge,” Holliday said. “So he has a whole summer and we’re excited about him.”
Although there's a lot to be sorted out, Holliday believes in the team's potential at wide receiver and is excited for the start of fall camp.
"It’s going to be fun come July 29 and my job is to get them ready for UConn,” he said. “But I anticipate us being a really good receiving corps.”
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