When football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 talks about his receiving corps, his voice reaches an excited, booming nature that fits his stature.
“We’ve got some guys who can catch the ball, make one, two people miss,” Knowles smacks his hands together, then thrusts his right one out as if imitating a plane taking off, “and go 80 yards.”
Red fans saw some of this explosiveness last year, but only in spurts with the team playing primarily a shotgun option offense. With his first recruiting class now reaching junior status, however, Knowles testifies to the skill and maturity of the group.
“If you look at this team, I think you can find the most depth that we have and our area of excitement at wide receiver,” he said. “We spent three recruiting classes trying to upgrade the skill from when we took it over and we’ve really upgraded.”
Leading the way for the receiving unit are juniors Zac Canty and Jesse Baker, who finished first and second, respectively, in receptions last year. Baker is built tall and lanky at 6-2 and can stretch the field on jump balls, while Canty, at 5-8, plays the role of possession receiver.
“[My height is] obviously an issue I’ve had to deal with my whole life,” Canty said. “I haven’t really grown too much over the years. But you learn to position your body to shield off defenders and play to your strengths. I pride myself on being a shifty receiver and I do what I can to make people miss in space.”
Junior Horatio Blackman rounds out the starting trio of receivers for the maturing unit. Blackman missed the entire 2006 campaign with a variety of injuries, but has battled his way into the starting lineup with an impressive camp. But the strength of the receiving corps doesn’t lie in its three starters as much as it does in its depth. Knowles has brought in impact players from other units on the squad to create a diverse group.
“We’re really a seven or eight man corps,” Baker said. “Everyone is going to see the field. It’s really changed.”
Some of the guys who are making the transition to receiver are sophomore Bryan Walters, a return man last year, and junior Shayne Kilcoyne, who backed up senior running back Luke Siwula last year. Kilcoyne will mostly line up in the slot receiver spot, while Walters is more in the Baker mold — tall and lanky — with explosive speed displayed on an 88-yard punt return for a score against Penn last year.
Sophomore Stephen Liuzza backed up junior quarterback Nathan Ford last year, throwing 23 passes, but will bring his athleticism to wide receiver. Liuzza is cited as one of the team’s best all-around athletes, as seen last year when he broke off an 81-yard touchdown run against Dartmouth on a quarterback draw. Junior Nick Zerante will provide another physical receiver who can go downfield.
“You’re going to see four wide receivers on the field, at least three; one tight end, three wideouts, four wideouts, sometimes empty sets with no backs,” Knowles said. “We’re going to spread the field as much as possible to create running lanes, but really to throw and utilize our strength.”
Knowles also promised an increased presence at tight end, filled this year by junior Anthony Spooner. Knowles describes Spooner as built like a full back, but with the capability of stretching the field.