In the midst of cooling curtailments on campus, No. 25 Stanford football continued its fall camp in preparation for the season opener against Northwestern on Aug. 31.
“I thought there was a lull in the middle of practice where we’re not used to the ninety plus degree temperatures, but we have good leadership on this football team and we push through it,” said head coach David Shaw regarding the recent heat wave in Northern California.
One position group without significant veteran leadership is the wide receiver corps, which is why its development is a focus of fall camp.
“We’ve got a young group,” said wide receiver coach Bobby Kennedy. “We’ve got a group that’s eager and willing to work and that’s half the battle. Obviously we’re not a finished product yet, but we’ve got a number of different combinations we can use.”
The two most productive receivers on last year’s roster, Trenton Irwin ’19 (60 REC, 685 YDS) and JJ Arcega-Whiteside ’19 (63 REC, 1,059 YDS), have left for the NFL. But Kennedy said he isn’t looking back.
“Every year is a new year, even if you have guys coming back,” Kennedy said. “We’re never satisfied with the production of the past.”
Sophomore receiver Michael Wilson, for one, is not convinced there will be any drop off.
“On paper people think we’re inexperienced, but I don’t think we’re going to lose any production,” Wilson said. “We’ve got dudes all over the field.”
Junior Osiris St. Brown, the third most productive Cardinal receiver last season, is Stanford’s closest semblance to a veteran, and he is pleased with the work ethic in fall camp.
“Throughout this camp we’ve shown a lot of resilience,” St. Brown said. “A lot of players are playing sore, we’re getting tired, [last Wednesday] was super hot, but we’re pushing through it, so we’re building good team habits.”
St. Brown acknowledged that he is one in the group who is pushing it. He has been battling an injury for awhile.
“I’m trying to get more comfortable with it,” St. Brown said. “I don’t know if it’s really going away, so trying to manage that as much as I can.”
Whereas in-season practice is focused on game plan and scheme, fall camp allows more time for individual work. According to Kennedy, the summer offers the opportunity to work on releases, running through tackles and various ball drills.
“I’ve got a nice time slot of individual every day,” he said.
For the receivers, it is also a chance to build chemistry with senior quarterback KJ Costello.
“Throughout the offseason we watch film together,” Wilson said. “Discussing things after routes, asking [Costello], ‘If the defense is playing this type of way, how can I beat my defender?’”
It is also a time for the young receiver corps to establish a culture.
“We’re trying to create an identity,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a young receiver corps so it’s up to us. We’re going to carry on that Stanford wide receiver legacy for the next three, four years.”
One legacy from last year, the wide receiver fade in goal line sets, is in jeopardy without its primary target Arcega-Whiteside. Kennedy, however, expects the call will remain in the playbook.
St. Brown, whose 204 yards came on just eight catches — the highest average yards per catch on the team — was prominently used as a deep threat last year.
“Not only deep routes this time, but hopefully get some more deep routes mixed in with some other routes,” St. Brown said. “Definitely looking for a bigger role this year.”
In the eyes of his coach, St. Brown is a complete player. While Kennedy wants to utilize his receiver’s elite speed, he also sees a role for underneath routes and yards after the catch. Wilson, St. Brown, Simi Fehoko, Connor Wedington and Bryson Tremain are all names Kennedy expects to be on the rise in 2019.
“We’ve got a number of different options and guys have flashed at different points,” Kennedy said. “I’m excited to see how we grow. It kind of depends on who decides to step forward and take those jobs.”
“This year we’re definitely going to see some new faces and definitely some people are going to make some names for themselves,” St. Brown added.
A young, hungry group determined to exceed expectations and defy the nation’s most difficult schedule could be a powerful force.
“People thinking that we’re not going to be the same as last year is our advantage because sometimes it’s good to be underdogs,” Wilson said. “I think we’re going to shock the college football world this year.”
ContactDaniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.