University at Buffalo coaches are showing no signs of panic over their unproven lot of wide receivers.
UB saw 153 of their 233 pass receptions walk out the graduation door in the spring. That included a team-high 61 catches and 12 touchdowns from senior Alex Neutz.
No one player is likely to fill Neutz’s shoes. But the Bulls think they have enough wideout options to keep a passing game that ranked fourth in the Mid-American Conference last year from falling off a cliff.
“Certainly we have some question marks,” acknowledged Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn, whose team began preseason practice this week. “But I feel good that there’s enough players on that side. … I think all of them by committee will give us the kind of production that Alex Neutz and Freddie Lee gave us last year.”
UB did well in turning the lightly recruited Neutz into a star. Overall, the Bulls have not produced a surplus of quality wideouts in Quinn’s tenure.
UB will find out how well its wideout cupboard is stocked.
“I’m pretty impressed with the top eight guys we have,” said receivers coach Marty Spieler. “We have a lot of depth. Not a lot of proven depth, but we have a lot of guys who can do different things for us.”
The two starters are sophomore Boise Ross and senior Devon Hughes. Ross, 6-foot and 186 pounds, caught only 13 passes last year but got meaningful playing time the second half of the year and flashes obvious talent. He was a first-team all-state player in Bethlehem, Pa. He ran a 10.7-second time in the 100-yard dash in high school and long-jumped 23 feet. Both of those marks would have won the WNY section title this spring. Ross will play the X-receiver, or split end spot.
Hughes, 6-0 and 186, caught only seven passes last year, but he has 48 career catches for UB. He will play the Z, or flanker spot, opposite the X and lined up a yard off the line of scrimmage. Hughes ran a 10.7 100 in high school in Georgia.
“Those guys are quick,” Spieler said of Ross and Hughes. “They get in and out of their breaks fast. Hughes may be the fastest guy on our team. He can flat-out go. Devon is athletic, and he has the most experience.”
The third wideout, usually playing in the slot, is former walk-on John Dunmore, a 6-0, 193-pound senior from Syracuse. He’s a possession receiver with a good build who’s not afraid to block.
When the Bulls use four wideouts, the slot receiver on the other side of the field is Marcus McGill, a 6-1, 222-pounder who was a two-time all-Rochester prep pick. He was looking good early last year but missed the last 10 games with a broken hand. He’s another big-bodied guy who will block.
Another backup, junior Ron Willoughby, offers size, at 6-4 and 202.
Willoughby isn’t a burner, but he made two great deep catches in Tuesday’s practice. He’s a good athlete. He was basketball player of the year in Lorain County, just west of Cleveland, and he scored 46 points in one prep game. He was a good “get” for the Bulls, because he had offers from Bowling Green, Toledo and Ohio.
“I really believe I can help the team this year,” Willoughby said. “Alex Neutz was a great leader. He helped me a lot last year and taught me great things, some great moves I can use. It’s really helped me in camp because I’m using the same moves he did. I feel confident going into the season.”
It might be tough for any others to see much time, but other young prospects include sophomore Malcolm Robinson from Canton, Ohio, and red-shirt freshmen Jacob Martinez from Florida and Jamarl Eiland from Michigan.
“We’ll have a lot of depth at the position, and we’ll be able to roll guys in situationally to do different things,” Spieler said.
Quinn invites guest speakers to address his team each of the first five days of the first week of preseason practice. The speaker after Day One was Guy Allegretto, a cousin of the quarterback on the famed 1958 UB team. Allegretto is a Marine Corps veteran who fought at the epic Battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam, where U.S. forces made a heroic stand.
“I always said to the players football is not war,” Quinn said. “There’s battles and it’s competitive, but it’s not war. … That man represents what I want: leadership, courage, teamwork, looking out for each other. We love having guys like that speak to our team.”