Notre Dame Season Preview: Wide Receivers
This year the Notre Dame wide receiving corps will have to step it up due to the loss of their best player last season. Wide receiver Will Fuller left Notre Dame for the NFL after an outstanding junior season in which he recorded 62 receptions, 1,258 yards, and 14 touchdowns in 13 games. Over his three-year career with the Fighting Irish, Fuller was good for 144 receptions, 2,512 yards, and 30 touchdowns over 32 career games. Fuller left Notre Dame with the receiver with the second most career touchdowns (Michael Floyd 37), 5th all-time in receptions, and 4th all-time in receiving yards. The Houston Texans drafted Fuller with the 21st overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
So who will fill in Fuller’s huge shoes? The first man up will be redshirt-junior Torii Hunter Jr. Hunter is a two-sport athlete (baseball, obviously), who caught 28 balls last year for 363 yards and two touchdowns. Hunter was recently named one of the four captains for the Fighting Irish for the 2016 season.
Hunter witnessed leadership as a college athlete from players like Nick Martin, Sheldon Day, and Jaylon Smith, but also from his father. Hunter has said
“I take a lot of the stuff that he done with a lot of ball clubs, and him being an older guy in a lot of younger clubhouses. That’s one of the biggest things I try to stress is keep it fun, joke around but also go out there and get work done. I think that’s one of the biggest things my dad does well is keep it chill, keep it lose and make guys go out there and play.”
Head coach Brian Kelly is counting on Hunter saying,
“He is a veteran on our team, hasn’t played maybe as much but he’s played big roles for us. He’s a guy that I think this year will be counted on to do quite a bit. But again, again, a guy that walks the walk and talks the talk and back it up both on and off the field will be a great mentor to a lot of young receivers.”
Hunter will be leading a young, inexperienced receiving corps that will be highlighted by Miles Boykin. Boykin is a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season. He comes in at 6’3”, 225 pounds with good hands, but according to wide receiver coach Mike Denbrock, Boykin needs be more aggressive.
Another young wide receiver who will make his debut this season is Equanimeous St. Brown, also known ESB. ESB will be the deep threat in the Irish offense given his height (6’5”) and ability to track the ball in the air. Cj Sanders, who has kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns last season, but rarely saw the field in any offensive sets will also likely make an impact this season. Sanders has the speed and playmaking ability to play slot, especially with Hunter and ESB on the outside.
The Notre Dame offense has high expectations. With Hunter returning in a leadership position, Mike McGlinchey holding down the offensive line, and Tearean Folston returning in the backfield, this offense is ready to go, regardless of whom the quarterback is. Hunter is obviously the player to watch in his senior year, but players like Boykin, St. Brown, and Sanders will have the opportunity to be playmakers this season as well.