SAN DIEGO — Texas Tech’s other wide receivers look up to Eric Ward for his work ethic and his productivity. After the Red Raiders finish the season Monday at the Holiday Bowl, they have to replace the man they revere.
“Four years behind one of the best receivers in school history, I think I’m pretty ready,” Shawn Corker said after the team’s practice Thursday night at UC-San Diego. “I’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, and everything he’s taught me and the receivers in the past — Lyle (Leong), Detron (Lewis), everybody — just take what they taught me and I feel like it’s my time.”
This is a critical offseason for Tech’s receiving corps. Ward, among the best in school history in all receiving categories, is a senior. The Red Raiders don’t know whether All-America tight end Jace Amaro, who caught 98 passes this season, will return. He could leave early for the NFL draft.
And beyond the four regular starters, there was a big drop-off statistically. The wide or inside receiver with the next best statistics is Jordan Davis, who has 26 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown going into Monday’s game against No. 16 Arizona State.
The Red Raiders have plenty of candidates to plug the holes, though players such as Corker and Derreck Edwards might be most on the spot. They’ll be upperclassmen next season — Corker a senior, Edwards a junior — and have been trained at the spot Ward will vacate.
Both were prominent recruits, but have 16 career catches between them.
“It sucks. It sucks,” Edwards said of his limited impact so far. “People don’t know my story. I was a soccer player. I didn’t really start getting good at football until my sophomore year in high school. My junior year was the first time I ever started on varsity, and the only reason I started was because a senior left. That’s kind of where it all took off.
“A lot of things go into playing time. I really don’t question it too much. I just try to come out every day, do my best, catch the football, keep my mouth shut, my head down and just keep pushing.”
Edwards’ shining moment actually took place in last year’s bowl game. On the same play, quarterback Seth Doege’s helmet came off, and do did Ward’s. Both headed to the sideline, and Michael Brewer raced in and threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Edwards.
“I went back and looked at the YouTube video,” Edwards said, “and my position coach at the time (Tommy Mainord), I read his lips and he said, ‘We’re going to try to get a timeout.’ But before they called a timeout to get E-Ward back in the game, Michael Brewer had already snapped the ball, threw the ball to me and shocked the world.
“Best feeling I’ve ever had in my entire life. First collegiate touchdown.”
The catch against Minnesota remains his only collegiate touchdown, but the Red Raiders need more of those going forward.
Come spring, the battle to replace Ward could involve Edwards, Corker, redshirt freshman Dominique Wheeler and true freshman D.J. Polite-Bray, who’s made a push. Polite-Bray is practicing as the No. 2 split end behind Ward as the Red Raiders prepare for the bowl game.
“It’ll be a very intense and competition-driven spring and fall with these young guys we’re bringing,” co-offensive coordinator Eric Morris said.
The other side looks a little more clear. At flanker, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis were 1-2 nearly all season. Marquez started the regular-season finale at inside receiver, but when the Red Raiders started on-site bowl practices Thursday night at UC-San Diego, he was back at his usual spot.
Corker has played both outside receiver spots, but has only five career catches. A lot of his playing time this season has come on special teams.
During the time he’s tried to meet the high expectations people have for him, Corker said, Ward has helped him keep his mind right.
“He’s been one of the main guys these last four years who has been there for me,” Corker said. “He’s been like a brother. He tells me all the time, ‘Keep your head up. Keep grinding and working hard. Your time is coming. When your time comes, ball out.’”
That time is just about here.
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