Thanks to the hiring of Deion Sanders, Colorado’s spring game in late April was one of the biggest draws around. More than 47,000 people attended (and countless more watched on ESPN) a scrimmage for a program that went 1-11 a year ago.
Among the things they witnessed was a breakout performance from Montana Lemonious-Craig, one of the few holdovers from the previous team. The 6-foot-2 wide receiver caught two touchdown passes, including one for 98 yards, and finished with 154 yards.
A day later, he was in the NCAA transfer portal, one of dozens of Buffaloes from the 2022 squad moving on following the coaching change. Some speculated he was pushed out by Sanders, or at least encouraged to leave, but Lemonious-Craig—let’s call him MLC—said the decision was all his.
“I felt like it was what was best for me and my future,” he said Friday, following Arizona’s third day of preseason camp. “I just felt like it was time for me to move on, go experience something new somewhere else.”
MLC committed to the UA on May 20, choosing the Wildcats because of the offense they run and how he felt he’d fit into that scheme. It didn’t hurt that there was a starting job open, one left vacant by Dorian Singer’s decision to enter the portal and transfer to USC.
“I think Montana felt there was a great opportunity with the way we throw the ball,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said. “You’re walking into a spot where, if you are the starter, you’re taking over for (66) catches and (1,105) yards. Traditionally guys that play that position in this offense ... throughout the years, the Z receiver has traditionally had about 70 catches and has about 1,100 yards. So I think what he felt like hey, if I get there, there’s great production opportunity.”
Arizona’s pro-style offense will be his third in as many semesters, having played in Karl Dorrell’s milquetoast attack that saw MLC lead the team with 23 catches to go with 359 yards and three scores, before spending the spring in Sanders’ more up-tempo system. Fisch said knowing the MLC had already shown the ability to adapt on the fly was a big selling point, as was his toughness.
“We didn’t feel like we were worried about whether or not this guy’s gonna take six games to figure out what to do,” Fisch said. “Second thing is he’s a tough. He was a guy that we saw could make plays on the one-on-one go ball, which was a spot that the Z receiver made for us. He was a guy that could break tackles when he caught quick screens and slants.”
Per Pro Football Focus, MLC was 8 of 12 on contested targets and broke four tackles in one game, against Cal, when he had career highs in receptions (eight) and yards (119).
“At the skill position you can’t be afraid of contact,” said Lemonious-Craig, who considers himself a playmaker that will do what it takes to get the extra yard. “Catch the ball, get vertical, get the yards that you need. Continue to turn out first downs, because first downs lead to touchdowns.”
The addition of MLC changes some of the plans Arizona laid the groundwork for in spring, when Jacob Cowing was moved from the slot to Singer’s spot outside. Cowing now figures to play more inside again, though not exclusively, while redshirt freshmen Kevin Green and AJ Jones as well as true freshmen like Jackson Holman and Malachi Riley will also be in the mix.
“We didn’t bring anyone in with any promises to start,” Fisch said. “Competition is the central theme of our program,and that’s not changing.”