HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's current outside receivers looked up to the men they're replacing - departed seniors Aaron Dobson and Antavious Wilson. And in terms of the Thundering Herd's career pass-catching marks, those two names are found pretty high on the list.
It's not just that they're replacing a pair of veterans. They're replacing two of the Herd's all-time best, a duo that helped Marshall become the Football Bowl Subdivision's most prolific passing team in 2012. The 2013 wideouts understand it won't be easy, but the competition remains spirited and positive one.
While Marshall's receivers are trying not to dwell on the past, the memory of Wilson and Dobson loom large. Dobson, a second-round pick of the New England Patriots, finished ninth in career yards (2,398) and tied for fourth in career touchdowns (24). Wilson, who spent a short time this preseason with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent, finished seventh in career catches (187) and 10th in career yards (2,269).
With those two and record-setting slot receiver Tommy Shuler, the Herd led the FBS with 365.08 passing yards per game. Now the race is on to find the next group of outside receivers to line up with Shuler.
"It's positive energy," senior receiver Demetrius Evans said. "We welcome everyone in and teach everyone the same. We don't have any favoritism. I want them to know exactly what I do to be at the level I'm on. You never know when somebody needs to be counted on."
Evans became one of those receivers called upon in the clutch late last season. With Dobson hobbled by a knee injury, Evans recorded 20 of his 32 receptions in 2012 in the last four games. He's in the mix for one of the starting jobs along with an army of others.
While new receivers Coach Mike Furrey said he has players confident enough to compete for the starting outside jobs, the starting experience of those players is minimal. Of the returning players, two, Evans and Craig Wilkins, started four games between them last season. Yet, Furrey said, a group of wideouts attempting to climb the depth chart is a motivated group.
"Obviously you'd love to have a guy that came back that played, but when you've got guys trying to make names for themselves and have the right attitude, that can be a dangerous weapon," Furrey said. "What I'm really excited about is that we have a lot of guys on the outside that have played a lot of plays - maybe not as much as Dobson and Antavious - but they've got a lot of games underneath them."
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said no one should count true freshmen Josh Knight and Justin Hunt out of the equation. Knight, a 6-foot, 184-pounder from Fort Pierce, Fla., and Hunt, a 6-2, 190-pounder from Memphis, Tenn., have shown some ability during the first few days of practice.
"You worry about those young freshmen coming in and having any chance at all to play, but when you look at those two guys, they do," Holliday said. "They're physical. They're both big guys who can run. They've got good ball skills."