Note: One in a series of previews of the Central Michigan football team as it prepares for its 2018 season opener at Kentucky on Sept. 1. Today: The receivers. Monday: The offensive line.
Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – A challenge? Yes. An opportunity? Absolutely. Plenty of opportunity.
The Central Michigan receiving corps is the least experienced position group on the team heading into the 2018 season. Least experienced, of course, lead to the most question marks.
Gone are the likes of tight end Tyler Conklin and wide receivers Corey Willis and Mark Chapman, a trio that combined to catch 19 touchdown passes and roll up 2,048 receiving yards a year ago.
It’s step-up-and-deliver time for several youngsters who have been waiting in the wings.
“I like how they work,” fourth-year CMU coach John Bonamego said. “I like the confidence that some of the young players have. I like our athleticism and our explosiveness.”
The most experienced among nearly two dozen wide receivers/tight ends on the roster are junior wideout Brandon Childress and senior tight end Logan Hessbrook. Both saw their respective 2017 seasons cut short by injury, Hessbrook in the third game, Childress in the second.
Still, both have flashed tremendous upside in their relatively short stints in a Chippewa uniform, and both lead a slew of young but talented players who will catch passes in 2018.
A newcomer to the mix, but hardly new to CMU football, is fifth-year senior Devon Spalding, who moved to receiver after spending his first four years, much of fairly productive, at running back.
“He’s just the type of individual -- I don’t think that any challenge you put in front of him is too big,” Bonamego said of Spalding, who found himself in a crowded mix at running back after playing in just four games last season because of injury. “He’s going to figure it out and learn. He’ll provide a real steadying influence in that room along with Brandon Childress.”
Hessbrook, a product of nearby Ithaca High School with a stop at Division II Saginaw Valley State before arriving in Mount Pleasant, headlines a tight end group cut from the mold of recent Chippewa vintage: big, athletic and sure-handed with the speed to go deep and the size, strength and moxie to go over the middle.
That group includes redshirt freshman Keegan Cossou and true freshmen Bernhard Raimann and Joel Wilson.
While Childress, who has shown great promise in 13 career games (34 receptions, 484 yards, two touchdowns), headlines the wideout group, there are plenty of others who appear poised to step in. Among them are veterans Jamil Sabbagh, Cameron Cole and Damon Terry, all three of whom are juniors, along with redshirt freshmen Julian Hicks and Bailey Edwards, among others.
“It’s a work in progress,” Bonamego said. “There’s something to coach on every single play, on every single day.
“As long as they maintain their focus … then they’re going to improve. It’s just a youthful group. They’re making young-guy mistakes: Miss (identifying) coverages or they probably haven’t quite mastered the technique of how to get off of press coverage, or route depths, finishing with the ball in the proper arm and getting up field. All the little details they have to master in order to operate at top efficiency.”