Southeast receivers eager to fill in the gap

Saturday, August 16, 2003

On a Southeast Missouri State University football team loaded with apparent strengths, a casual observer might label wide receiver as a big question mark.

The Indians' wide outs can understand that line of thinking -- not that they agree with it.

"Everybody expects us to be down," junior Chris NesSmith said, "but I think we'll be as good as last year."

Added sophomore Bill Coleman, "We have a lot to prove, to quiet our critics. But I know we will."

The reasons for potential concern about the receiving group are obvious, most notably the absence of All-American Willie Ponder, who completed his eligibility last season.

Ponder, a two-year standout for the Indians, caught 87 passes for 1,453 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2002 -- all school records. He was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Giants.

"We have a lot to prove, just cause of losing Willie right there," NesSmith said.

Ponder wasn't the Indians' only receiving loss. Tarik Simpson was third on the squad with 35 catches and second behind Ponder in touchdown receptions with five as he provided another big-play threat.

As Southeast wide receivers coach Kip Shaw spoke about those losses during a recent practice, he seemed anything but worried. Like his players, Shaw believes the Indians will again field a standout group of receivers.

"We don't have the one dominant receiver like Willie, but overall I think we're better as a unit. I think we're a lot deeper," Shaw said. "I think we'll be fine."

NesSmith and Coleman, along with third projected starter Jamel Oliver, are several of the reasons Shaw feels the 2003 receiving corps won't miss a beat.

NesSmith was second behind Ponder last year with 38 receptions, good for 432 yards and four touchdowns.

Coleman burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman last season by catching 32 passes -- fourth on the squad -- for 297 yards and three touchdowns.

And Oliver, who was recruited as a running back before being moved to receiver, came on toward the end of his true freshman season last year by catching six passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged a healthy 16.7 yards per catch to match Ponder's mark.

"Last year was my first time to play receiver, and toward the end of the year I felt a lot more comfortable," Oliver said. "I'm looking forward to contributing a lot more this year."

Said Shaw, "With Chris, Bill and Jamel, those are three very good receivers, and they're my old kids. The oldest is a junior."

While NesSmith, Coleman and Oliver are Southeast's only experienced returning receivers, Shaw also is excited about the rest of his group.

Junior Brandon Amick, a walk-on from Scott City, caught three passes last year while playing sparingly, but he figures to see more extensive action this season. The same goes for sophomore T.J. Milcic, who had no official receptions in 2002 but caught a pair of two-point conversion passes.

"We're going to miss Willie and Tarik, but I think we'll be fine, and hopefully it will open up some more playing time for me," Amick said.

Also returning from last year's team, but new to receiver, is sophomore Jeff East, who was a backup quarterback in 2002 before being switching positions.

Shaw figures talented newcomers -- including several freshmen -- give the Indians' wide outs even more pop, particularly for the future.

Being counted on to contribute right away is junior Anthony Gilliam, a transfer from Texas Christian who has been slowed some during practice by a leg injury.

"He's still learning our system and the injury has bothered him, but here's a kid who signed with TCU," Shaw said. "We look for good things from him."

Freshmen Nikelya Dennis from Florida, Antonio Scaife from St. Louis and Scott NesSmith from Alabama -- he is Chris NesSmith's younger brother -- are loaded with potential, said Shaw.

"We're not sure who we're going to redshirt, but right now they all look good and all could play," Shaw said.

Another local walk-on, freshman Ryan Brown from St. Vincent High School in Perryville, also is in the mix at wide receiver.

"We're taking a good look at all of them," Shaw said.

And no matter which receivers play the most, they say the situation is in good hands.

"I think we'll be more versatile," Coleman said. "We'll spread it around more."

Added Oliver, "I think even without Willie and Tarik, we won't disappoint our fans."Noteworthy

n Southeast will have a scrimmage with officials at 5 p.m. today at Houck Stadium. The public is welcome to attend.

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