The last few seasons, the Colorado State offense featured a receiving core that was heavily dominated by two players.
375 receptions, 5,491 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Those are the combined career receiving numbers of former Colorado State standouts Rashard Higgins and Joe Hansley.
The duo combined for 103 receptions, 1,477 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, roughly half of the team’s receiving stats. Those are the numbers that the 2016 Rams will be looking to replace.
The returning core consists of redshirt junior Xavier Williams, junior Deionte Gaines, sophomore Olabisi Johnson and redshirt junior Sammie Long IV.
The four combined for 39 receptions, 418 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Having limited playing time in the past, they are eager to step out of the shadows.
“All of us, me, X (Xavier Williams), Bisi (Johnson), Gaines, in particular, are playing harder every day to push each other,” Long said. “And it’s not that we are trying to fill (Hansley’s and Higgins’) spots, but it’s more trying to get each other better cause we can’t fill up to their shoes ’cause we are playing in our own. We’re trying to get everybody the ball this year, not just one name, and the only way we can do that is by pushing each other.”
The wide receiver depth chart is anything but set in stone.
Both Long and Williams have split time at the top of it in the first week of spring ball.
“We try to come out every practice and compete with people on the offense like Sammie Long,” Williams said. “I think they switched our position on purpose so that they could get some competition out of us, and that’s just going to bring out the best in you every day and I just think the competition aspect is what they wanna see.”
With last year’s starter, Nick Stevens, and transfer Faton Bauta dueling for the starting job in 2016, receivers have taken up the responsibility of working with both Stevens and Bauta to gain chemistry with both quarterbacks.
Players have been around Stevens and have developed some familiarity with his play from the past, but Bauta is starting from scratch as the new kid on the block.
“The first day, we spent doing extra routes (with Bauta),” Long said. “Recently, they’ve been working on their throws, so we’ve been catching those and talking to him in between plays trying to get a chemistry as fast as we can.”
Xavier Williams may have found a bond with both quarterbacks early. Williams made several head-turning plays at practice Thursday and it didn’t matter who threw the ball.
“Half the time, honestly, I don’t know who is throwing me the ball — I’m just running the route,” Williams said. “Nick, you know he’s going to get better from last year. Faton, he knows the offense, so he’s already good with everything, so it’s just up to me when they throw me the ball.”
With spring football underway, the competition will only heat up and the chemistry will continue to evolve.
Collegian Sports Reporter Chad Deutschman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ChadDeutschman.