<em><em>Editor’s note: This is part six of a nine part series that will highlight each position group of the USU football team leading up to the season opener on Aug. 30 against Southern Utah.</em></em>
<strong>LOGAN—</strong>Simply put, the Utah State University football team has a lot of talent at the receiver position heading into 2012.
The Aggies got good news early in the spring when senior wide receiver – and leading pass catcher from a season ago – Matt Austin was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Austin has tremendous talent and is USU’s clear-cut No. 1 wideout, after catching 34 balls for 465 yards and six touchdowns in 2011.
“Matt Austin is our bell cow, there is no question about that. He’s had a great camp, he’s a tremendously talented player and a very confident player,” USU offensive coordinator Matt Wells said.
“He’s the best in the league. He wants to be known as an all-around receiver now. He’s not just a fade guy now, because he’ll block his tail off. He’s an extremely physical wide receiver, but he’s gotten a lot better in and out of breaks, he’s a good slant ball runner, double moves he continues to work on and get better at. He’s an extremely hard worker and a very, very coachable kid.”
Starting along with Austin is another dynamic senior in Chuck Jacobs. A very effective returner on special teams, Jacobs is an elusive receiver in space and was third on the team in catches and yards in 2011.
“We got better. This summer we got stronger and faster, and I feel like as a whole between us two, we’re going to help this team out a lot on offense,” Austin said of himself and Jacobs.
A pair of Travis’s also bring returning experience to the USU receiving corps, as both Travis Reynolds and Travis Van Leeuwen are poised for big roles in their junior campaigns.
“Travis Reynolds, he’s made a big impact throughout the spring and the summer so he’s going to be one of those guys I think you should look out for,” Austin said. “Van Leeuwen, he’s a good guy, another veteran that’s coming back that’s going to help out this offense.”
The receiving group has also had some of the biggest surprises of the offseason. Senior Cam Webb had a magnificent fall camp – capped off with an eight reception, 101 yard receiving effort in the second fall scrimmage. Freshman JoJo Natson has also impressed despite his diminutive size at 5 feet 7 inches and 145 pounds.
“Chuck Jacobs has some special abilities when he’s out in the open field. He’s got to continue to be consistent on a daily basis. Cam Webb has been probably the surprise of camp, very, very consistent and solid. He’s a great blocker and a good route runner. I love everything there is about Cam,” Wells said.
“JoJo Natson is a young kid that has come in and impressed and will play. We knew he had a chance to, because we were a little thin at slot receiver, and we knew he’s got some good ability to make people miss in space … we knew he had some of the skill sets if he could learn it mentally, and he’s done a nice job.”
A pair of tall, athletic junior college transfers have also been in the mix, but have struggled to adapt to the speed of the game at a Division I level. Junior Dwayne Lorick (6’5”, 215) and sophomore Alex Wheat (6’4”, 214) have shown flashes of ability in camp with their size, but have yet to crack the top of the rotation. USU head coach Gary Andersen did say during Monday’s press conference that Wheat, at that time, had worked his way on to the team’s travel squad. Redshirt freshman Brandon Swindall (6’4”, 194) is another tall receiver who will be in the mix.
“Our expectations as a receiving corps is just to make some great catches. Catch the hard ones, catch the easy ones, and just make plays all over the field,” Austin said. “We are going to open it up, so when the opportunity presents itself, we’ve just got to make plays and I feel like we can do that this year.”