Summer in Boulder never quiet for receiving corps

Summer in Boulder.

Warm days. Shakespeare in the Parks. Farmers’ markets. Hiking, biking, and barbeques …

… and turmoil in the University of Colorado receiving units.

A look back – 2009

While the 2009 preseason magazines were discussing the merits of head coach Dan Hawkins’ “ten wins; no excuses” statement, the Colorado receiving corps was undergoing an upheaval. Josh Smith, a record-setting kick returner (1,568 yards on 50 kickoff returns) and a speed burner being counted upon to stretch opposing defenses, announced he was leaving the program. Citing a desire to pursue a music major not offered in Boulder, Smith set his sights on a return to the state of California (ultimately settling on UCLA).

Also leaving the Buffs, but with less fanfare, was tight end Ryan Wallace. The red-shirt freshman was reportedly homesick, expressing a desire to return to a school closer to his native Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The loss of Smith and Wallace were off-set during the summer as news of the pursuit of transfer Toney Clemons. Unhappy with the new coaching staff at Michigan, Clemons, a former four-star recruit, was looking for a new home. Clemons ultimately chose Colorado, with the joy of the announcement tempered only by the reality that Clemons would have to sit out the 2009 season under NCAA transfer rules.

Also sitting out the 2009 season was former Colorado wideout Kendrick Celestine. A two-game starter as a true freshman in 2007, Celestine abruptly left the team two games into the 2008 campaign, citing personal reasons. Celestine decided to come back to Boulder to try and make the team, but had to earn his way back into a scholarship, including making up for missed time in the classroom while paying his own way. (Celestine would ultimately be rewarded with the reinstatement of his scholarship in December, 2009).

While the loss of Smith and the graduation of Patrick Williams and Cody Crawford left the 2009 wide receiving unit bare, there was still reason for optimism. Three incoming freshmen were signed in February – Jarrod Darden, Terdema Ussery, and Chance Blackmon – and all were given a chance at early playing time.

But the Buffs were not done yet …

On the eve of the opening of fall camp, the Buffs signed another true freshman recruit, Will Jefferson. A 6’0″, 195-pound prospect from Moreno Valley, California, Jefferson was planning on attending Chaffney (California) Junior College before signing on with the Buffs.

Even with all of the above going on, the summer of 2009 was still all about the grades of one Andre Simmons, a junior college transfer from Independence (Kansas) Community College. Simmons, considered to be the No. 6 junior college wide receiver prospect, had signed with the Buffs, but his academic standing remained in doubt throughout the summer. Simmons passed six classes in the spring, but had to pass an additional three classes in the summer to become eligible. Just when it looked like Simmons would not make it to the Boulder campus, Simmons was cleared by the NCAA – on August 24th, just two weeks before the 2009 season opener.

As the curtain rose, then, on the 2009 season, the Buffs, with only Scotty McKnight returning with playing experience, still looked to be improved at wide receiver. McKnight would be joined by Andre Simmons and Markques Simas (as soon as Simas was done completing a two-game suspension for violation of team rules), with former running back Brian Lockridge also expected to see time along with the quartet of incoming freshmen.

So, how did 2009 play out?

Scotty McKnight continued to set records. His 76 catches for 893 yards, though, were about all the Buffs had to show for a season in which the Buffs ranked 8th in the Big 12 in passing offense, 10th in the conference in scoring offense, and last in the conference in total offense.

Markques Simas showed some promise late, bouncing back from his early season suspension to post three 100-yard games in the final four games of the season.

After that, the receivers showed little progress. Jason Espinoza, not even in the conversation during much of the summer, was the only other wide receiver in double digits, with 13 catches. Andre Simmons, who was supposed to stretch opposing defenses, had a 44-yard catch against Colorado State in the opener, then only had one other catch – for three yards – the remainder of the season. Of the four freshman recruits, only Will Jefferson, the late signee, saw the ball, with six catches for 45 yards on the year.

Fast forward to 2010 …

Bolstered by the return of Kendrick Celestine and eligibility of transfer Toney Clemons, the Buffs appeared to be deep at wide receiver. Record-setting Scotty McKnight returned, as did Markques Simas and all of the freshmen from the 2009 recruiting class.

Then summer came along, again wreaking havoc on the Colorado receiving corps.

Markques Simas was arrested for DUI just after national signing day in February. He was suspended for the first week of spring practice, but then appeared to be back on track to be a starter this fall. In May, however, Simas failed to make a court appearance, and found himself dismissed from the team.

Not satisfied with that drama, the Buffs again went out looking for transfers. With USC under NCAA suspension, juniors and seniors were allowed to transfer without penalty – or so everyone assumed. Travon Patterson, a senior buried in the depth chart at USC, was welcomed to Boulder, but remains in limbo. The Pac-10 and USC are apparently concerned about Patterson transfering to another in-conference team, even though Patterson is a senior and the Buffs will not play in the Pac-12 until 2011 at the earliest. Patterson’s fate will not be determined until later this week.

Another recruit who did clear the “transfer” hurdle is former UCLA recruit Paul Richardson. The four-star prospect was released from his letter of intent by UCLA after being arrested for stealing a backpack, but, since Richardson was never enrolled at Westwood, he signed on with Colorado without having to sit out. Richardson was in uniform on Friday, and will be eligible this fall.

So, where does that leave the Buffs in 2010?

There is Scotty McKnight, poised to become the Buffs’ all-time leading receiver in most statistical categories. Simas is gone, but Toney Clemons and Kendrick Celestine are now eligible. The 2009 freshmen recruits? Terdema Ussery has switched to safety; Chance Blackmon is no longer on the roster. This leaves red-shirt freshman Jarrod Darden and late 2009 signee Will Jefferson to provide  depth, along with Jason Espinoza. The 2010 recruiting class witnessed the addition of Keenan Canty from New Orleans, while fellow receiver Donnie Duncan will have to wait until at least January to join the team due to academic issues.

The saga of Andre Simmons continued again in the summer of 2010. Simmons appeared – again – to be an academic casualty, but is again on the roster, having passed his summer classes to remain eligible for his senior season.

Former UCLA recruit Paul Richardson is in as a Buff, while former USC Trojan Travon Patterson awaits word on his fate.

In other words, the 2010 receiving corps shapes up as follows: Scotty McKnight, followed by a roster of talented, but inexperienced, receivers.

Just like it was at the opening of the 2009 season.

Hopefully, next summer in Boulder will be quiet and peaceful. Hopefully, the Colorado wide receiving unit, despite losing McKnight and Simmons to graduation, will be strong and deep, and looking forward to their first year competing in the Pac-12.

Hopefully …

One Reply to “Wide Receiver Roulette”

  1. Just wanted to give a shout out to Kyle Cefalo, a walk on/transfer wideout who looked like a McKnight clone in the Spring game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crack the rotation this year.

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