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Freshmen may see playing time in Trojan Spread

Sports Editor

Last season was a learning experience for the entire Troy State offense, yet it was particularly painful for the Trojans’ wide receivers.

John Shannon brought the Trojan Spread to Troy, a four wide out set that depended mainly on crisp execution and timed precision. Yet TSU returned just one pass catcher with anything resembling experience; Heyward Skipper.

Skipper had started nine games the year before, playing along side future New York Giants’ draftee Jonathan Carter.

The junior from Baxley, Ga., became quarterback Brock Nutter’s favorite target, taking it on himself to become the man Shannon and the offense could count on. He caught 60 passes for 995 yards, including a career-long 90-yard scoring pass against Cal-State Northridge.

The other wide receivers, both young and inexperienced, struggled throughout the season, some still learning the intricacies of Shannon’s offense while others tried to adjust to playing college football.

But last year’s negatives have turned into this season’s positives as the Trojans return three starters, including six players who saw action at some point in 2001. That’s not including Drew Amerson, a senior transfer from Cal-State Northridge where he was an all-american. Amerson came to Troy last year as Matador, hauling in 10 catches for 177 yards in a 44-31 loss to the Trojans. When Cal State decided to drop its football program Amerson called Shannon and Troy State.

Amerson will team with fellow senior Eric Felton to man the Trojans’ slot position. He brings not only talent, but experience as well. The San Diego, Ca., native was Northridge’s all-time leader in receptions (239) and receiving yards (2,958).

"The first day Drew stepped out on the practice field, you knew he was a ball player," Shannon said. "He knows what to do with the ball and how to make a defender miss after the catch. Plus, he’s a solid blocker."

Felton injured his hand during the final two weeks of spring training, but should be back at full speed by early August. Speedy junior Chris Day returns as well. Day caught 17 passes for 221 yards last year.

The lone loss was senior Thomie Venisee, who transferred to Alabama State during the offseason.

Shannon has said the first thing he looks for when recruiting potential wide receivers is speed. And not only was he able to gather some speed from this year’s recruiting class, but from size as well. Five of the six receiver signees are over 6-feet tall, with 6-foot-5, 200-pound Larry Brackins, of Dothan, the cream of the corps. However, Brackins will probably be an academic casualty and be forced to go the junior college route before joining the Trojans.

That still leaves some talent for Shannon to work with. James Earl Cray (5-11, 174), Zsan Robinson (6-2, 180), Toris Rutledge (6-3, 175), Frank Taylor (6-2, 190) and Martin Teal (6-5, 210) could all see playing time this year for Troy State.

"We are going to let them all come in and compete," said Shannon. "Once they get here, we’ll see where they fit the best. Four or five of them will have a chance to be on the field this year."

Freshman report this Sunday, with orientation to follow on Monday.

The Trojan Spread utilizes the tight end primarily as a blocker, yet both junior Cedric Phillips and senior Jonathan Tomlin have the necessary receiving skills if called upon. Phillips caught five passes for 74 yards last season, with Tomlin seeing time in double-tight end sets.

"Cedric has gotten better," said Shannon. "He has matured and grown as an athlete. Now, we need him to grow into being a dominant blocker."

This is the fourth of a multi-part series, breaking down the Trojans position-by-position prior to fall practice.