An SLC championship on their minds, the weight of the offense in their hands

Before the 2007 football season started, there were a lot questions surrounding the Sam Houston State wide receivers. Yet through three games, the group has come together and continued to improve in an effort to become the top receivers in the Southland Conference.

Trey Payne, Justin Wells, Darnell Jones, Chris Lucas, Catron Houston and Blake Martin are asked by the coaching staff to go out and constantly make plays and so far, they have done the job asked of them by both head coach Todd Whitten and offensive coordinator Jason Ferguson. Yet prior to the start of the season, the SHSU coaches weren’t quite sure what they had in their receivers.

“I thought they [the wide receivers] had some talent, but there were some questions about them,” Ferguson said. “Occasionally, a guy will look good in practice, but you never know until you put them in a game situation. I think we’re going to be ok. They’re not perfect, but no one is out on the field, including the coaches, and we will keep working hard and improving.”

When the season began, many looked to pre-season All-American Blake Martin to anchor the receivers, and so far, all of the pre-season hype surrounding the senior tight end has been confirmed. The former Hemphill High School standout has had a team-high 15 receptions through three games for 128 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. When asked about the preseason accolades, including a spot on the preseason first team All-Southland Conference roster, Martin acknowledged that they are nice, but he still has to go out and perform to justify them.

Despite a few dropped balls early in the season, most notably in the first game against Angelo State, the wide receivers have had good chemistry with new Bearkat quarterback Rhett Bomar and have grown more accustomed to the velocity of his passes, Ferguson says.

“I think with each passing day and passing game, our quarterbacks and wide receivers are getting better with more repetitions,” Whitten said. “We’re getting better as a team.”

The group appreciates the job Bomar has done so far this season and respects not only his leadership on the field, but also his ability to put them in a position to make plays.

“He [Bomar] has a big-league arm,” Justin Wells said. “It’s an arm that will be playing on Sundays in a few years. He can make throws a lot of quarterbacks can’t make.”

Martin added that he likes the way Bomar can not only hit them when they are open, but also locate the ball in a good spot for them to catch and tuck away from defenders.

Chris Lucas, a transfer wide receiver from Troy in his first season at Sam Houston State, has three receptions for 30 yards this season.

In addition to being teammates on the field, the Bearkat receivers are also noticeably close with friendships off the field, which Martin says became strengthened after the players participated in 7-on-7 football over the summer. They are a likable group and carry confidence in their abilities while avoiding an air of arrogance.

Though many of the players are transfers (Trey Payne – Baylor, Catron Houston – Texas Tech, Chris Lucas – Troy), they act as though they have been playing together for many years.

“You’ll never catch Trey [Payne] quiet out on the field,” Jones jokingly said of his teammate.

The players described themselves as a group of guys who never “throw anyone under the bus,” rather, according to Payne, they help each other out on the field. With no specific player emerging as the leader, the players said they all view themselves as leaders of the group; no one receiver is more important than the others.

Payne, dubbed “T-Pain” by his teammates, has six catches for 61 yards and has also spent some time as a punt returner for the Bearkats.

Houston and Jones, who are roommates, said they have been friends ever since Houston arrived in Huntsville after transferring from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In the three games this season, Houston has nine receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown, while Jones has 13 catches for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns. One of Jones’ most notable achievements this season was a touchdown in the final seconds of the Bearkats’ game against North Dakota State that put the Bearkats ahead 38-34 before the Bison offense came back to win the game 41-38.

Wells originally came to SHSU as a slot receiver but has since moved to wide out, which has given the Bearkats a big play threat on the outside. With his quiet demeanor and skill set, Wells said he tries to model his game after another low-key NFL superstar.

“I try and go out and play like [Marvin] Harrison,” Wells said. “He’s the complete package; he just goes out there and does his job.”

Despite suffering a concussion in Week 3 against North Dakota State, Wells has been the big play threat for the Bearkats’ offense with 11 catches for a team-leading 221 yards and a team-high three touchdowns, including the team’s first of the season with a 64-yard reception in the first quarter against Angelo State.

The players also expressed their deep respect for Whitten and his coaching style, including Whitten’s respect for his players, referring to Whitten as a “players coach” who appreciates the input his players give to him on the sideline.

“They are a great group of guys,” Ferguson said. “We take pride in our offense, so we look inward because we are our own biggest critics.

“We can’t control that,” Houston said of any criticism he receives. “We just work harder because of it.”

So what can the Bearkat faithful expect from the Sam Houston State receivers for the 2007 season? In the eyes of the players themselves, they should expect nothing less than a conference championship.

“I think we’ll win conference,” Jones said. “We have too much talent not to. We have great coaches and we as receivers will improve every game and be the best receivers in the conference.”

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