PITTSBURG — With teams throwing the ball down the field now more than ever, the Pittsburg State wide receivers are preparing for another heavy workload in the upcoming season.
The Gorillas have been working on fundamentals in the opening week of fall camp, as they used the half-pad practices to get back into rhythm.
“I think we’re just trying to get back to the basics,” PSU wide receiver Austin Panko said. “You don’t really get to practice against the defense with pads on during the summer, so we’re just trying work on the basics like getting in and out of routes, working on our footwork and getting in our alignments. Now we’re just trying to progress from there and get ready for week one.”
Pitt State got a taste of full-contact on Friday, which was the first day the team suited up in full pads for a short scrimmage.
“I thought we did some really good things, especially the younger kids,” PSU wide receiver coach Matt Karleskint said. “Just knowing what to do, as crazy as it sounds, is the first step to success. I also thought we did some good things when the ball was in the air. I didn’t see too many drops, but we’re still a work in progress. I’m sure when I look at the tape, I’m going to see a lot of things that we really need to get better at, but I pleased giving how early it is.”
Being able to catch the ball is one thing, but being able to secure a pass in traffic and gain yards after the catch is another.
“Football wise, we focus on three things,” Karleskint said. “Get open, catch the ball and do something with the ball once it’s in your hands. If you’re going to catch the ball and get tackled immediately, I don’t place a lot of value on that. I can put a lot of guys out there who could do that, so I’m looking for the guys who can do something with it after the catch and get us extra yards.”
Distractions such as hearing the footsteps of defenders or being near the sideline could take the receiver’s attention away from the ball, so catching the pass before deciding what to do next is the key to avoiding drops.
“The first thing always has to be focusing on the catch,” Panko said. “If you’re thinking about something else, the catch isn’t always made. The idea is to catch, tuck and come alive. We always talk about getting vertical and making two steps before you make a move, so that’s the mindset. We think yards after the catch is a big part of playing the receiver position and it’s very important to us.”
Although catching the ball is the main job of a wide receiver, blocking is also an important aspect and is often overlooked.
“I just think being willing to do anything is what makes a team go from good to great,” Panko said. “If you have everybody on the field willing to sacrifice and give everything they have, I think that’s when teams go to the next level.”
The wide receiver has many responsibilities on every play, making it one of the most tiring positions in football.
“You have to be willing to work hard,” Karleskint said. “It’s a lot of running. We’ve tracked the miles and I don’t want to track it again because it’s adds up to five or six each day. I don’t want them to think about that because sometimes that can get in your head. You just have to silence that little voice in your head and push through it.”
Since wide receivers are utilized in several different ways, staying on the same page as the quarterback is essential to success.
“Team chemistry is very important,” Panko said. “It’s something we work on every single day and all summer long. We have guys coming up here at night with the quarterbacks and working all the time, and I think that goes a long way. We have a very close group — especially at the receiver and quarterback positions — and I think that’s very important.”
Being a wide receiver isn’t a one-dimensional job, so it takes a lot talent and passion to be one in the MIAA.
“The MIAA is very difficult,” Panko said. “We see a lot of different coverages and everybody has good athletes. There’s a lot of good players everywhere and it’s a difficult challenge, but a fun one. I think we had a little success last year as wide receivers and I’m looking forward to building off of that. We just have to get better everyday in order to accomplish it.”
It will likely be another challenging season for the Gorillas this year, but they are confident it can be a successful one.
“Another one of our core values is that you have to put the team first,” Karleskint said. “Every decision you make has to be about the team and I tell them if you do that and you’re willing to work hard, you’re going to be alright.”
— Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.