FORT WAYNE – Go on, take a good look, here in the crack-of-dawn light. You wont see him anywhere out there.
Practice – sometimes, yes, as early as 5:45 in the a.m. – goes on here as another August turns to September at Bishop John M. DArcy Stadium, but Austin Coleman is in the wind. Oh, theres a kid wearing his familiar No. 2 out there, but its Cale Tabler. Hes a sophomore defensive back from Wapakoneta, Ohio, hometown of that old moonwalker Neil Armstrong.
As for Coleman, he might as well be on the moon.
After four years, 117 catches, 21 touchdowns receiving and an NAIA-record eight kickoff returns for scores, hes gone on to the real world, leaving the role of game-changing wideout to others.
Which is not the good news you might think it is for opponents who for four years put a target on Colemans back.
We have at least five guys right now we think can do the job for us, Cougars head coach Kevin Donley says.
Wideout-by-committee is how the Cougars will replace Coleman, in other words. And by Donleys lights, its some committee.
It starts with Akeim Kelsaw, a sophomore out of Snider, who caught the same number of balls Coleman did last year (42) for 413 yards and two touchdowns. Then theres Aaron Knight, a senior who had 34 catches for 381 yards.
After that, theres Cam Smith, who caught 20 passes for 335 yards, two scores and a team-high 16.8 yards per recaption; Matt Noll; Colin Haruff; Steven Espinoza; Cody Appenzeller; and redshirt freshman Montay McDowell and true freshman Seth Coate, whos impressed virtually everyone in camp.
Hes really good, Donley says.
And Kelsaw, he says, is special, but not so much that teams can afford to key on him exclusively.
Clearly Donley loves that prospect, just as clearly as he loves his receiving corps going into the season.
Weve got good receivers, he says, noting both Kelsaws abilities and the ability of Appenzeller and Espinoza in particular to operate elusively in space.
Its gonna be difficult to game plan against anyone specifically. Thats a positive.
If there is a single receiver teams might target, Kelsaw or Knight might come closest, based on past performance.
Kelsaw, a 6-foot, 185-pounder, caught just one pass for three yards in the opener last year against Texas State. But the next week he caught five balls for 43 yards against Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and he never caught fewer than two in a game thereafter.
The high point was back-to-back games against Saint Xavier and Marian in which he grabbed seven for 93 yards and then a season-high nine for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Knight, meanwhile, caught 10 passes for 119 yards against Marian, the biggest single day for any Cougars receiver last year. He had at least two catches in 10 of the Cougars 11 games last year.