HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It doesn't take an aeronautical engineering major to figure out who is Marshall's top returning wide receiver this spring.That's Tommy Shuler, the man with the 110 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns last season as a sophomore. His role this spring is to baffle a rebuilding defense, and he's doing a fine job at that.So, after the departure of NFL prospect Aaron Dobson, Antavious Wilson and backup slot man Andre Snipes-Booker, who is the No. 2 returning wide receiver? No peeking.That honor goes to Demetrius Evans, the star-crossed senior-to-be who stayed healthy enough to catch 32 balls for 284 yards with two touchdowns. (He finished behind tight end Gator Hoskins, who scored 10 TDs out of his 35 catches.)
Evans started three games, but he played all 12. The 5-foot-11, 194-pound senior from Belle Glade, Fla., didn't play that many in his first two seasons."Last year, I kind of count it as my freshman year, after two season-ending injuries," Evans said. "My freshman year I had a labrum tear, and my sophomore year I was done after Southern Miss, the second game of the season, after a PCL tear."Posterior cruiciate ligament tears are unusual, and so is this: "The weird part about it, it doesn't hurt," Evans said.Now, he is battling a conga line of receivers in the wide receiver room this spring, both at Dobson's old "X" position and elsewhere in the Thundering Herd's varying formations. And the roster doesn't take into account injured contenders Davonte Allen and Jazz King.The warm-body count has new receivers coach Mike Furrey enthusiastic and ready to put his NFL experience to work."We have a lot of depth with a lot of guys who want to play," Furrey said Tuesday. "The will to play and the desire to play sometimes, and often, overtakes talent. A talented guys will show up every once in a while, make plays here and there [but be] pretty inconsistent."The guys we have in this room are sponges right now; they want to learn. Still, they're in denial [in] receiving the information because they've done things a certain way for so long, even all the way back to high school."Or at Penn State, which is where Shawney Kersey toiled until he followed cornerback Derrick Thomas and diminutive receiver Devon "Moo-Moo" Smith to Huntington.Last year, Kersey caught five passes for 35 yards in the Nittany Lions' opening loss to Ohio, then had a single catch for 9 yards in a setback at Virginia. After that, he left the program, citing personal reasons.Thomas, Smith and Kersey all will be seniors this fall. Smith redshirted after his arrival, but he knows what Marshall's hyper-tempo offense is all about. Evans is very, very familiar.Kersey, who backed up Evans at "X" on Tuesday, is still undergoing culture shock. After all, he played in Big Ten, where even the no-huddle offenses have been known to take their time.
The Herd did not, averaging 90 snaps per game. It almost exhausted Kersey to watch it on video."Whewwwww
, man! And then coming out here and actually doing it? It's tough, but it's fun," Kersey said.Several receivers are making some eye-popping catches this spring. On Tuesday, that started when Evans "snow-coned" a downfield shot from quarterback Rakeem Cato. Later, Cato put a perfect amount of air under a shot down the sideline, hitting DeAndre Reaves perfectly.Look for that to continue for the final seven practices, right up to the April 27 Green-White Game."When you've got guys who want to learn and want to play, and they respect you, you can coach," Furrey said.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.