There are nine scholarship wide receivers on Arizona’s spring roster, which might not seem like enough when you consider the Wildcats regularly had three or more wideouts on the field for the past several seasons.
For Jedd Fisch, it feels like a million. Both because of what he was used to with his last two coaching gigs in the NFL and because of how bleak that position looked when he got the Arizona job a little over three months ago.
“I like our depth at wide receiver,” Fisch said last week. “I’m coming from a league where you’d only dress four or five, maybe six if you’re going to count a special teams player for a game. So I consider it a huge bonus that we have as many players as we have here.”
It didn’t look like Arizona was going to have anywhere close to that many receivers in December when, not long after Kevin Sumlin was fired, five receivers put their names into the NCAA transfer portal. The first to do it was Stanley Berryhill III, who led the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns, and not long after he was joined in there by Boobie Curry, Jamarye Joiner, Ma’jon Wright and Drew Dixon.
Berryhill, Curry and Joiner have since returned to the program, with Berryhill taking a brief detour to Ball State where he was committed for about 10 days. Wright withdrew from the portal only to go back in less than two weeks later (and, consequently, is back in there after backing off a commitment to Middle Tennessee) while Dixon remains on the lookout for his next team.
Getting the trio of Berryhill, Curry and Joiner—who combined for more than 40 percent of the UA’s receptions and receiving yards and four of their six passing TDs last season—to come back was a joint effort of Fisch and receivers coach Kevin Cummings, with the latter using empathy about the tumultuous year that was 2020 to talk them into returning.
“When we were talking to those guys about coming back, with COVID, with the season, it was a stressful year,” Cummings said Tuesday. “It’s easy, when stuff gets stressful like that, to just tap out and see if there’s something better on the other side. All we asked those guys to do was come in and trust us, come in and learn and come in and compete. I’m very, very happy that those guys came back.”
Also back in action this spring is Jalen Johnson, who was suspended for the 2020 season due to COVID protocol violations. Cummings is expecting big things from the 6-foot-2, 212-pound sophomore, who had seven catches for 79 yards and a TD in 2019.
“Jalen Johnson is amazing,” Cummings said. “When you’re as big as Jalen is—and I would say he’s in the top two or three fastest receivers here—when you’ve got a kid like that, that’s that big … he’s going to be special.”
While Arizona has plenty of experience coming back at receiver, an all-new offense means everyone is starting fresh. Cummings said he expects his guys to know a lot of routes, and how to break off from them to get open for the quarterback, while also playing a key role in plays in which they aren’t the focus.
“You’ve got to block more,” redshirt junior Brian Casteel said. “The receivers have to block in this offense.”
Added redshirt senior Thomas Reid III: “You’ve got to block to get the rock.”
For Reid and Casteel, this marks the third coaching staff they’ve had since coming to Arizona in 2016 and 2017, respectively, with Reid spending his first three years as a walk-on. Both said they didn’t give any thought to entering the portal, preferring to make the most of another chance to prove themselves at home.
“I’ve been through two coaching staffs already, I wanted to give them a chance,” Casteel said.