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Catching the fever

Walker makes most of chances

Catching the fever

Catching the fever

Georgia Southern wide receiver Zach W...

    Georgia Southern wide receiver Zach Walker only caught nine passes last season.
    Of course, that was good for a team-high 343 yards and three touchdowns.
    About a half dozen of his catches were spectacular circus grabs that made every 2012 GSU highlight reel, and one even made ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10. The last one was a 40-yard bomb down the sideline in the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs against North Dakota State on 4th-and-11, that kept the Eagles alive with less than a minute to go and gave GSU a chance at a game-tying field goal.
    In other words, when Walker gets a pass thrown his way, he makes it count.
    “When coach calls a play to me I try not to let my team down,” said Walker, a junior. “I really want it, and I try to go get it.”
    Georgia Southern wide receivers don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to make plays with the football in their hands, and that’s just the way head coach Jeff Monken likes it.
    “There will never be a time, while I’m the head coach here, that we’re going to become one of those teams that’s throwing the ball just to see if we can throw the ball,” Monken said. “We’re not apprehensive about throwing the football, but we want to run the ball. If you’re going to be good at running the ball, you have to practice running the ball and make sure that we’re good at that. That’s what we hang our hat on. We rely on the passing game to support what we’re doing in the run game.”
    Quarterback Jerick McKinnon only threw the ball 46 times in 2012 in 10 starts at the position, but he knows that when he throws one up for Walker, or the team’s other wide receivers for that matter, good things are usually going to happen.
    “They all have big-play abilities,” McKinnon said. “When you throw the ball up in the air they all have a chance to go up in the air and come down with it. Zach is one of the best. That’s what we try to do — keep it in bounds and give the receivers a chance — and he does a great job of it. … When he goes up with one hand and comes down with it, it’s pretty exciting.”
    Walker and fellow junior Kentrellis Showers return as the team’s top two receivers from a year ago. They combined for 19 catches and five touchdowns.
    Last year’s starters, Patrick Barker and Mitch Williford, have graduated, but a pair of redshirt freshmen — Montay Crockett and B.J. Johnson — are ready to step right in.
    “We’re trying to find ways to get the guys that we think are capable of doing something special with the football, we’re trying to get them the football,” Monken said. “Zach makes some great plays, Kentrellis runs fast, Montay Crockett is a really impressive redshirt freshman, and B.J. Johnson is in the same boat. Those guys are impressive. We have to be able to get them the ball.”
    When you throw in the pass-catching abilities of the running backs, there are plenty of able hands to catch McKinnon’s passes.
    “The list goes on and on,” McKinnon said.
    As Monken pointed out, the passing game will never be the Eagles’ bread and butter, and it doesn’t need to be when you rush for 5,596 yards and 55 touchdowns as a team.
    That’s why the receivers get their chances. The running games helps the defense forget there’s even wide receivers on the field.
    “When you’ve got a good receiver running wide open,” McKinnon said, “all you’ve got to do is give them a chance and stick it on them. That’s all I try to do.”
    The Eagles will practice once more at Beautiful Eagle Creek today at 9:15 a.m., before a final scrimmage Saturday at Paulson Stadium following “Meet the Eagles,” an opportunity for fans to get autographs from  GSU’s fall sports student-athletes, at 10 a.m., at the Soccer/Track facility.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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