By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Seventh of an eight-part series featuring the best Football Championship Subdivision players at various positions.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Look around the FCS at the All-America wide receivers and see how many possess prototypical size for the position.
There's Brandon Kaufman of Eastern Washington, 6-foot-5, 205 pounds.
Aaron Mellette of Elon, 6-4, 212.
Brian Quick of Appalachian State, 6-5, 220.
Chris Summers of Liberty, 6-4, 190.
Norman White of Villanova, 6-3, 215.
Ryan Spadola of Lehigh, 6-3, 200.
But the FCS player who had more receiving yards last season than any other returning receiver is Chattanooga senior Joel Bradford. He's a mere 6 feet, 170 pounds.
With Bradford, it clearly shows there's still a big spot for the smaller receiver today.
"The smaller receivers ... I think it's kind of harder for a safety or a linebacker or any DB I guess to guard smaller guys because they're kind of more deceptive and they might have more speed," Bradford said.
"So (the defenders) are going to have more cushion, which means they're going to have to back away a little more."
Joel Bradford caught 81 passes for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Bradford laughs that the running joke among his teammates is that other people on campus see him without pads and think he is a kicker or the water boy.
Opponents are wise not to underestimate Bradford, or give him too much room at the line of scrimmage. After catching 81 passes for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns last season, he returns as one the FCS' Top 10 receivers this fall.
In teaming with childhood friend, fellow Chattanooga native and former high school teammate B.J. Coleman - the Mocs' elite quarterback - Bradford helped create buzz with their football program last season. After opening with a thrilling, 42-41 loss to Southern Conference kingpin Appalachian State, they went on to beat eventual FCS semifinalist Georgia Southern on Homecoming Day at Finley Stadium and finish with a second straight 6-5 record - their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1990 and '91.
This year, the Mocs expect to take an even bigger step under third-year head coach Russ Huesman.
"Going into the season, we expect a winning season, even contend for a SoCon championship and make the playoffs," Bradford said. "That's our main goal - make the playoffs."
Huesman has made a lot of excellent decisions while restoring Chattanooga's program, which was a combined 22-69 from 2001-08. But in his first year at the helm in '09, he not so wisely switched Bradford from wide receiver to free safety. Bradford was a backup at the position and a special teams performer during the first half of the season, then played extensively over the final six games.
Huesman wisely returned Bradford to wide receiver for his junior season, and the hometown (water) boy posted success that nobody could have foreseen. He set the Mocs' single-season record for receiving yards as well as the single- game record with 254 receiving yards against Eastern Kentucky, before breaking it again with 274 yards against Furman. They were the two highest single-game totals in the FCS last season.
"I think (the season as a free safety) helped me develop more in terms of a complete player," Bradford said. "It helped me understand the defenses - what their motives are - because high school is completely different from college.
"I'm undersized. I'm the not fastest, I'm not DeSean Jackson (the Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver). But I guess I'm kind of deceptive in everything I do, including my quickness," added the finance major, who has been clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash. "The thing I pride myself on is route running. I just keep my eyes downfield and keying (on) the coverages. That comes from studying film and the coaches preparing us for games. I just take that to heart.
"I feel like I have to outsmart the opponents, just because I'm undersized. They might outphysical me or whatever, but I think I can make up for that with my quickness and just the mind for the game."
Bradford is working to improve his blocking skills and to be more physical against tight coverage.
His favorite NFL receiver, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, has those skills.
Oh, yes, Fitzgerald also has prototypical size at 6-3, 218 pounds.
Such size will never be a part of Bradford's game. Just about everything else is for the Chattanooga native who stayed home and became an All-SoCon first- team standout.
"The word that describes it the most is prideful," Bradford said. "It's something I never thought about doing; I always wanted to go out of town. But I grew up here my whole life. Once they put that jersey on my chest and it says 'Chattanooga,' it's kind of fun that I'm actually playing for my hometown instead of just a town for four years."
Here are nine more receivers who are part of The Sports Network's FCS Preseason Top 10:
Tim Benford, Tennessee Tech, Sr., 6-1, 195 - It's dangerous to try to defend Benford with one-on-one coverage because he has big-play ability. Ten of his 50 receptions went for touchdowns last season, and he averaged over 16 yards per catch with 812 receiving yards. He enters his fourth season as a starter with 152 career receptions, including 22 touchdowns. Much of the Golden Eagles' offense revolves around getting the ball to Benford.
Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington, Jr., 6-5, 205 - With star tailback Taiwan Jones sidelined for the FCS semifinals and championship game last season, Kaufman took his play to an elite level, catching a combined 17 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns for the national champion Eagles. He finished the season with 76 receptions for 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games, and was the first EWU player to score on the new red turf at Roos Field. He uses his big body to be physical in traffic and long legs to get behind the secondary.
Aaron Mellette, Elon, Jr., 6-4, 212 - Mellette carved out his spot in Elon receiving history last year one season after the Phoenix lost Terrell Hudgins, the all-time leading receiver in Division I history. The fast Mellette is coming off a sophomore season in which he caught 86 passes for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking third in the FCS in receptions per game (7.82). He torched Richmond for 18 receptions. This year, though, Mellette won't have quarterback Scott Riddle, the Southern Conference's all-time leading passer, getting him the ball.
Josh Philpart, Jacksonville, Sr., 6-1, 175 - Coach Kerwin Bell lauds Philpart's ability to run routes. Over the past two seasons, the two-time All- Pioneer League first-team standout has turned 25 of his 103 receptions into touchdowns. He's been the deep threat on a squad that led the FCS in scoring average (42.2 ppg) last season. Philpart's best attribute might be his hands because he rarely drops a pass. JU's all-time leader in receiving yards (2,156) totaled 48 receptions for 800 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.
Tim Benford, Tennessee Tech: Oct. 29 at Jacksonville State
Joel Bradford, Chattanooga: Sept. 3 at Nebraska
Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington: Sept. 17 at Montana
Aaron Mellette, Elon: Oct. 1 vs. Georgia Southern
Josh Philpart, Jacksonville: Nov. 5 at Drake
Brian Quick, Appalachian State: Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech
Cordell Roberson, Stephen F. Austin: Oct. 29 vs. McNeese State
Ryan Spadola, Lehigh, Jr.: Sept. 10 vs. New Hampshire
Chris Summers, Liberty, Sr.: Sept. 17 vs. James Madison
Norman White, Villanova, Sr.: Oct. 1 vs. William & Mary
Brian Quick, Appalachian State, Sr., 6-5, 220 - An explosive player, Quick simply needs App State to throw the ball more his way. The former high school basketball standout can leap high to get to the ball and is a matchup problem for defenses. As a sophomore, Quick caught 61 passes for 982 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, he caught only 47 passes, but they went for 844 yards (18 yards per reception) and nine touchdowns.
Cordell Roberson, Stephen F. Austin, Jr., 6-3, 192 - Roberson's ability to separate himself from defenders was evident in the fact he caught 16 touchdowns last season, over 61 receptions for 1,011 yards. He not only uses his speed well, but the lanky Roberson goes and gets the ball, and doesn't let it just come to him. He combines with Gralyn Crawford on a dynamic duo, although both receivers will have to work without Jeremy Moses, who won the 2010 Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) as the FCS' outstanding player.
Ryan Spadola, Lehigh, Jr., 6-3, 200 - If the Mountain Hawks arrived a year ahead of schedule last season, Spadola was one of the difference-makers. He caught 78 passes for 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns and earned third-team honors on The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America Team. Against Harvard, he had 14 receptions for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Spadola is both fast and athletic. He finished last season in a big way, catching touchdowns against arch-rival Lafayette and then in FCS playoff games against Northern Iowa and Delaware.
Chris Summers, Liberty, Sr., 6-4, 190 - Last offseason, Summers committed himself to getting stronger and more focused on a higher level of play, and it paid off with a banner junior season, when he caught 76 passes for 1,081 yards and 15 touchdowns, while earning a spot on The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS All-America first team. He was consistent throughout the season and Big South defensive backs struggled to match his height on the perimeter. He and Liberty quarterback Mike Brown, a former wide receiver for the Flames, form one of the nation's more electrifying combinations.
Norman White, Villanova, Sr., 6-3, 215 - White's breakout junior season has pushed up his stock considerably among NFL scouts. A lengthy ankle injury to standout Matt Szczur last season thrust White into being the go-to receiver, and he delivered with 69 receptions for 886 yards and 11 touchdowns while making the All-CAA Football first team. That he was a standout high school basketball player reflects in his ability to outleap defenders for the ball. Looking back to 2009, White caught one pass in Villanova's FCS championship game win over Montana.
Receivers on the cusp: Gralyn Crawford, Stephen F. Austin, Jr., 5-10, 175; Orlandus Harris, Eastern Kentucky, Jr., 6-0, 185; Marcus Jackson, Lamar, Sr., 6-1, 195; Shadrae King, Robert Morris, TE, Sr., 6-3, 225; Simmie Yarborough, Southeastern Louisiana, Sr., 6-1, 210.