Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 Linfield Football Spring Review: Receivers

Look forward to more big plays from Lucas Jepson in 2012.

Welcome back to the second round of our 2012 Linfield Spring Review. I’m rather fired up to talk about this position group heading into the 2012 season. Before 2011, I was expecting some big moments and production out of the receivers and they didn’t disappoint. We had outstanding leadership and play-making from the vets, new faces making a big impact, and some young talent producing as the season moved along. The receivers finished up 2011 with seven different players catching touchdown passes while three were named to the All-NWC team (Saxon, Jepson, Wiersma).

It was an impressive season on a number of fronts but what I found to be the most pleasing was the passing offense wasn’t just dependent on one guy carrying all the water for the receiving group. Multiple receivers had big games throughout the season and it just made the offense that much harder to cover, and for defenses, it put a strain on where to allocate their resources.

Going into 2012, the receivers did lose four year starter Buddy Saxon. Buddy not only was a big target (6’6”), but the 1st team All-NWC performer was revered by the staff and his teammates for his knowledge and smarts on the field. Along with Saxon, the ‘Cats also lost the services of Erik Koczian who was a steady performer his senior season. With that said, my expectations are high with regards to the potential of the 2012 receivers. Not only does this group has proven talent returning, but is about as deep and potent of a group that I can remember in a number of years at the ‘Catdome. I might be setting the bar high for this group but it should be. Linfield will have guys on the outside and inside that should keep defensive coordinators up at night.

However, along that lofty praise comes the responsibility to live up to it. If you couldn’t tell, I’m looking forward to seeing who steps up to fill the leadership void now that Saxon has graduated, I’m looking forward to seeing the maturation of some of the younger players in the group, and I’m looking forward to seeing how hard this group works for each other once they cross that line on September 1st.

Returning Starter 

Deidre Wiersma, 6-0, 195 lbs, Sr, Grants Pass. Or
Lucas Jepson, 5-9, 180 lbs, Sr, Aloha, Or
Charlie Poppen, 6-1, 175 lbs, Soph, Oregon City, Or

Steady Vets 

Aaron Hire, 6-2, 205lbs, Sr, Salem, Or

Up and Coming 

Evan Peterson, 6-1, 180 lbs, Soph, Issaquah, Wash
Colin Nelson, 6-6, 210 lbs, Soph, Redmond, Wash
Conner Varnell, 6-3, 195 lbs, Jr, Arlington, Wash
Reid Sullivan, 6-0, 180 lbs, Jr, Edmonds, Wash
Michael Carrillo, 6-0, 205 lbs, Jr, McMinnville, Or
Michael Madden, 6-0, 195 lbs, Jr, Buckley, Wash
Derek Priestley, 6-0, 190 lbs, So, Roseburg, Or
David Sigler, 6-0, 175 lbs, So, Cottonwood, Idaho
Jackson Ruckert, 5-10, 170 lbs, So, Albany, Or
Zach Young, 5-9, 180 lbs, Jr, Lake Oswego, Or
Kyle Harris, 5-11, 175 lbs, So, Portland, Or
Taylor Hein, 5-11,, 188 lbs, So, Canby, Or

Talking Ball with Coach Brandon Hazenberg 
Coach Haze is headed into his 7th year on staff and 1st leading the wide receivers.
(Wildcat11) Coach Haze, with the end of 2011, the 'Cats lost a solid group of senior wide receivers including 1st team All-NWC performer Buddy Saxon. Losing a player that was as big (6'6") and as heady of a player of Buddy's caliber seems daunting, however, I find myself being rather optimistic.  You have proven talent coming back as well as what may transpire out of the youth of the wide receivers in the group. What is your 1st impressions of the receivers this spring? 

(Brandon Hazenberg) Well WC11, this group has some very talented players coming back. Not only is there talent within the group, but the talent runs very, very deep. We have a large number of guys competing for playing time right now and that is exciting as a Coach. The kids on the other hand, are learning how to compete against each other while still encouraging one another and being consummate teammates. Last season, two years ago….it’s all out the window. We are focused on what we can achieve right now as a collective group. Time will tell, but this is as deep as a WR core as I have seen in a long time here at Linfield. If these guys buy into running secondaries into the ground as a unit and not as individuals, they could be special.

(WC11) Let's talk about your returning starters. Last season, I felt that Dre Wiersma got off to a bit of a slow start but as the season progressed he elevated his game and became a guy defenses had to find on the field. How has Dre looked so far this spring and what are your expectations of him this season? Two guys that came almost out of the blue where Jepson and Poppen. Poppen opened the season as a Sophomore with 5 consecutive starts before suffering that season ending injury vs. Pacific, and Jepson, transferred in from Cabrillo JC and exploded onto the scene as the 'Cats best play-making threat down the field. 

(BH) Dre has been fantastic this spring. He has been very open to everything the staff has asked of him and I couldn’t be prouder. I expect for him to be the guy young bucks look up to this season for his work ethic, drive to compete, and knowledge of the game.

Mr. Jepson was a big play threat for us last season once he grasped the offensive language and concepts. He'll need to continue to learn and stay motivated for us this season. When he plays hard he is very dangerous, so we'll expect him to do just that.

Poppen is as consistent as they come and I am very excited about him for this upcoming season. Charlie is a quick learner and retains information very well, which is important in our system.  He has grown tremendously over the last 12 months and is beginning to mature as a man and as an athlete.  If he continues to progress, watch out!  Aaron Hire has also been a fantastic surprise. Hire has now fully made the transition to WR from a HS QB.  He understands route running and how to create space.

(WC11) I love the young talent in this group. You have guys in this group that have already made an impact on the field (Peterson, Nelson, Varnell, Priestley) and you have a group of Juniors and Sophomores-to-be that I think are ripe to make a major contribution to the on-field product in 2012. What do you feel are the up and comer’s strengths and are these guys going to be pushing for major playing time in 2012? 

(BH) Evan Peterson has had a fantastic spring camp so far. I really see him pushing to play a big role in the offense this upcoming fall. He doesn’t do any one thing amazing; he is just a complete WR with all the skills to be a stud. Zach Young, who sat out last season with an injury, is also a guy who we feel will make an immediate impact on our team. Zach is a big-time run after the catch guy so we will look to get him the ball is space. Colin Nelson (6’6) is another guy we hope will push to play and give us some much needed height against smaller corners. David Sigler and Derek Priestly have been impressive after a taking the year off because of injuries. Conner Varnell, Michael Carrillo and Taylor Hein provide us with some big bodies for the slot and just need to continue to learn the system and execute. Kyle Harris has had a great spring so far. Jackson Ruckert, Michael Madden, and Reid Sullivan have all yet to take a snap yet this spring, but I expect good things from those guys when they do.

(WC11) One area that I'm a little concerned about is the lack of overall height on in this group. We do have some guys with some height and length but are you concerned about making plays on the ball? Also, what are some other areas that this group needs to improve upon this spring and summer?

(BH) It ain’t the size of the dog in the fight 11, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters. Our guys know the importance of aggressive play while the ball is in the air. You have to want that ball more than your opponent every single time it leaves the QB's hand. It’s a mentality that we are trying to establish that does not come easy. It takes time, repetition and a consistent awareness of what is needed to succeed as a WR here.

 The two main areas of improvement for us as a group are knowledge and physicality. We are talented yes, but our knowledge must improve for us to be able to get open versus the elite secondaries in division 3. Talent will only get you so far as we have seen the last 3 seasons. We need to find that little something extra that when push comes to shove will put us over the top.

Lastly….we need to become a WR core that is deemed physical by our opponents. We need to dominate the perimeter through blocking, run after the catch ability and our overall mentality. These guys are still learning what that means, so it needs to continue to be emphasized. You do not choose to become physical overnight….it’s a process of becoming tough over time.

In closing, just wanted to say thank you for all you do for the program WC11. You are a true ambassador of Linfield Football and we couldn’t be more proud of what you do for us. Tell the wifey that all the work and time away from home is much appreciated! Please know you have helped heighten the awareness and prestige of the program over the last 8 years. As much as you would like to negate that fact, it is true. GO CATS!

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