Aug. 15, 2003
by Chris Masters
Insurance is a valuable commodity for anyone. It provides stability, security and confidence for the future. For the 2003 edition of the Notre Dame football team, its insurance lies in the wide receiver corps. The Irish are blessed with a vast reservoir of experienced talent at that position, a trait that will be critical to the success of Notre Dame’s West Coast Offense this season.
“As a group, we’ve got a year of experience under our belt, we understand the system a lot more than we did and now we can expand on that,” Irish wide receivers coach Trent Miles said.
Of the six wide receivers who caught at least one pass for Notre Dame last season, five of them are back in uniform in 2003. However, the one departure for the Irish is a big one – Arnaz Battle turned in one of the finest individual seasons ever by a Notre Dame wideout, finishing with 58 catches for 786 yards and five touchdowns. His 58 receptions ranked third on the school’s single-season list and were the most by any Irish player in 33 years.
With Battle’s exit, the leadership reins in the receiving unit have been turned over to senior Omar Jenkins. The 6-1, 205-pound native of Dallas has steadily improved in his first three years at Notre Dame, setting new career highs with 37 catches for 633 yards and three touchdowns last season. He also rolled up a career-best 166-yard effort (and the game-winning TD) against Navy, the highest single-game output by an Irish wideout in 12 years.
“He’s our Mr. Dependable, our Mr. Consistent,” Miles said.
“He’s a leader who’s tough and can make the important catch or the key block. He always lines up and runs the right routes. He’s proved he can go out there and make big plays, so we expect he will go out and be a quality receiver for us on a regular basis.”
While Jenkins might be considered the steady workhorse among the Irish receivers, sophomores Maurice Stovall and Rhema McKnight could be termed the young thoroughbreds of the bunch. Both showed flashes of potential during their first season at Notre Dame in 2002, and with a year of experience behind them, they should evolve into important assets in the Irish offense.
Stovall, a lanky 6-5, 221-pound product of Philadelphia, finished third on the team in receiving last year with 18 catches for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He also earned third-team freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News and was immortalized on the cover of Sports Illustrated in mid-September after his first career touchdown catch gave the Irish an early lead at Michigan State.
Meanwhile, McKnight developed into a dependable reserve for Notre Dame last season, winding up with nine receptions for 91 yards, including two catches each against Boston College and USC. A 6-2, 207-pound resident of La Palma, Calif., McKnight could be the big-play threat the Irish are seeking to replace Battle.
“Maurice has a year of experience and confidence, which gives him the knowledge that he can go out there and eventually be a dominant college football player,” Miles said.
“As for Rhema, he was probably the most physical blocker we had last year, as a freshman. He had a really good spring and I look for him to make a solid contribution for us.”
The remainder of the returning crop of wideouts is led by senior Ronnie Rodamer. At 6-4, the Morgantown, W.Va., native looks to be more involved on the offense as he is a reliable pass-catcher and had an excellent spring. Junior Matt Shelton is another veteran receiver who has opened some eyes with his speed and ability to stretch the defense. Shelton had one reception for 18 yards against Rutgers last year and also spent time on special teams.
With depth at the wide receiver spot that hasn’t been seen at Notre Dame in nearly a decade, it’s no wonder that position is one of the most solid and well defined on the Irish roster. It also may turn out to be a critical piece of the puzzle on Notre Dame’s return to championship glory.