TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State’s coaching staff is banking that a rigorous preseason camp will help them find some reliable young wide receivers.
Though they are very aware of the cliche: There is no substitute for game experience.
The No. 19 Seminoles have just two players with more than 10 college receptions — senior Nyqwan Murray and junior Keith Gavin. Murray and sophomore D.J. Matthews are the only receivers who have a touchdown catch at Florida State. Johnathan Vickers, a converted fullback, is now the most experienced tight end with nine receptions and a touchdown catch in three seasons.
When first-year wide receivers coach David Kelly answered a question about Gavin, he began to pivot, saying Gavin is “one of the few that we’ve had that have ever played in a college football game.”
The Seminoles return just four receivers who have college experience, a number that’s overshadowed by an influx of six true freshmen who have been on campus just a few months.
“It’s a group that I thoroughly enjoy coaching,” Kelly said. “Those young men are trying to do everything that I’ve asked them to do. Now we just have to see how we perform on test day.”
Test day is quickly approaching as the Seminoles prepare for the season opener against No. 20 Virginia Tech on Sept. 3. Florida State still has major questions in the passing game, not just who starts at quarterback but also who will be on the receiving end.
The likely answer at receiver is that coach Willie Taggart will play veterans and newcomers alike to see who fits best in the Seminoles’ new no-huddle offense.
Murray has had an inconsistent college career, hauling in a pair of touchdown catches in Florida State’s Orange Bowl win over Michigan in December 2016 but had one 100-yard game as a junior and four touchdowns in 12 games last fall. Kelly arrived this winter and said he “heard all of these horror stories about Nyqwan Murray and attitude” but has instead seen a hard worker and a veteran who is respected by his peers.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Murray is coming off knee surgery in March and has been limited at times in the preseason but feels motivated to finish his career on a positive and have a 1,000-yard season.
“Most definitely,” Murray said, smiling. “But we’re going to keep that under the rug.”
Florida State receivers have often been blanketed by defensive backs the past few years. While Rashad Greene had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2013-14, no player at Florida State has reached that milestone in the last three seasons.
And for all of the program’s recent success, including the 2013 national title, Florida State has had just three receivers selected in the NFL draft since 2010 – a group that includes just Auden Tate (seventh round in 2018), Greene (fifth round in 2015) and Kelvin Benjamin (first round in 2014).
“That definitely motivates me,” Murray said. “I feel like it’s really disrespectful. Nobody is paying attention to Florida State receivers. We have to get back to that.”
Florida State certainly can get back on track if redshirt freshman Tamorrion Terry continues to develop. The 6-4 Terry didn’t play in his first year at Florida State but hauled in a 13-yard touchdown reception as part of a 129-yard performance in the spring game in April.
Kelly is also excited about the six true freshmen, notably 5-9, 162-pound Keyshawn Helton. A nephew of former Florida State star and Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, Helton has made a quick impression and could factor in as a receiver or returner.
“Another kid that plays the game the way you’re supposed to play the game,” coach Willie Taggart said. “He’s been on a mission since Day 1 and he’s out to prove himself. He’s doing a darned good job of proving himself.”