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BULLS' TALENTED RECEIVING CORPS TRIPLE TROUBLE FOR OPPONENTS

Throw them the football. Observe as their eyes lock in on the flight of the ball. Watch as they weave through the secondary and blindly extend their hands at the precise moment the ball reaches its destination.

It is a scene that has been repeated over and over again by wide receivers Jamie Gasparre, Kali Watkins and Drew Haddad, the University at Buffalo's talented receivers.

Enemy defenses have been on alert this season as the Bulls' pass catchers have turned Saturdays into an aerial circus.

"It's a lot of fun throwing to these guys," said quarterback Chad Salisbury, who hopes to find his explosive targets often when the Bulls host West Chester Saturday at 1:30 p.m. "They are the best I've ever played with."

Others would agree. Several publications, including The Sporting News, rate the receiving corps among the finest in Division I-AA. Haddad leads the way with 18 catches for 279 yards. Gasparre has 223 yards on 17 receptions and a team-high four touchdowns. Watkins' 14 grabs have accounted for 185 yards and a TD.

"No matter what combination we put out there, they all produce," said Booker Brooks, UB's wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. "These guys have a lot of ability, but they also believe they can beat anyone. It's not cockiness. It's just confidence that comes from being so demanding of themselves."

Wide receiver was a major weakness during the first year Craig Cirbus served as head coach. But the passing game took flight last season and it has made the offense more potent.

"I think we're on the right track with our recruiting," Cirbus said. "We're getting the right people. To say I'm surprised by their performance wouldn't be fair. That's what they are trained to do. That's what they're supposed to do."

Perhaps the key to the receivers' success is their competitiveness.

"We really get after it in practice and try to push each other as much as possible," said Gasparre, whose 14 career touchdown catches leave him five shy of the school record.

"Our depth keeps us on our toes," added Watkins, whose 12 catches against Illinois State this year was the second-highest one-game total in Bulls history. "We know there are guys behind us who are very good, so we have to be at the top of our game every day."

Because UB employs several receivers, there may be games when opportunities to catch passes are limited. But that's fine with them. There are no egos among friends.

"We're all very close on and off the field," Haddad said. "If one guy catches all the passes, we're just as happy. We try to support each other all the time. But we love competing against each other because it makes us better."

Gasparre, Watkins and Haddad lack the size most teams covet today. But they make up for it with excellent pass routes, terrific hands and an ability to run after the catch. They also have no fear of risking life and limb going after balls over the middle.

"I think we're good at making plays in any situation," Gasparre said. "We put a lot of pressure on defenses because they can't key on just one of us."

A 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior, Gasparre sat out the 1995 season after transferring from C.W. Post. But the coaches knew he was worth waiting for.

Gasparre made 48 catches for 783 yards and tied a school record with 10 receiving touchdowns last season. He had a streak of five straight games with at least two touchdowns snapped against Delaware State two weeks ago.

"We knew he was special the first five minutes of his first practice," Brooks said.

At 6-feet and 178 pounds, Watkins is UB's most physical wideout. The junior developed into a big-play performer a year ago, averaging 17.8 yards on 41 receptions.

"Kali has made more improvement in one year than anyone I've been around," Brooks said. "He's really worked extremely hard to get where he is."

Haddad (5-11, 186) had 21 catches as a freshman. His immediate impact shouldn't be a surprise coming from a high school program like Cleveland's St. Ignatius, USA Today's national champion in 1993 and 1995.

St. Ignatius turns out major college players on an annual basis, so signing Haddad was a big coup for UB.

"He has what it takes to be a great one," Brooks said. "I'm glad he came here instead of one of those Big Ten schools because he can definitely play at that level."

Waiting for their chance to shine are sophomore backups Enrico Pierre and Rychard Dykes. Both have shown signs of becoming quality players as well.

"I'm excited about all of our receivers," Brooks said. "They give us a luxury we've never had before."

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