DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire football team’s passing game is getting a lot of attention in fall camp these days as the Wildcats work toward their Saturday, Sept. 7 season-opening game at Holy Cross.
While much of the spotlight has been on the quarterback job, where the Wildcats are looking for a starter, there’s a need on the other end of the throw-and-catch combination.
Head coach Sean McDonnell and wide receivers coach Michael Ferzoco are hoping explosive senior Malik Love, who missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, can return to the form he showed in his first two years with the team and lead the way at wide receiver.
The signs have been positive thus far.
“Malik is doing well,” McDonnell said. “He had a heckua summer. Finally, you can see him playing at the explosive speed he played at as a freshman and sophomore. Towards the end of last spring you started to see some flashes. This summer he did a great job of taking care of his body, of really doing a great job of rehabbing and everyone’s starting to use the term of pre-habbing, preventing injuries and taking care of soft tissue. And he works at it.”
The Wildcats started practicing in full pads earlier in the week, held their Media Day on Wednesday in Wildcat Stadium and are taking aim at their Blue-White game that wraps up fall camp on Sunday, Aug. 25 at 10 a.m.
UNH plays its home opener and begins play in the Colonial Athletic Association against the University of Rhode Island on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m.
Love and the other Wildcats receivers will be aiming to replace the production of the graduated Neil O’Connor, who finished his career third in both receiving yards and catches in UNH history behind R.J. Harris (2011-14) and David Ball (2003-06). O’Connor had 3,117 receiving yards on 235 catches.
Love, 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, is from Alcoa, Tenn., and did a postgraduate season at the Holderness School in New Hampshire.
After redshirting his first year at UNH, he made an immediate impact when he got on the field in 2016.
Love led the team in catches that year with 59 for 520 yards. As a sophomore, he had 70 catches for 733 yards and he comes into this season with 131 catches for 1,268 career receiving yards.
“Malik’s a competitive, competitive kid,” McDonnell said. “Tough kid who as a receiver brings a little edge to him and I hope he can bring that to the rest of the guys on the team.”
The leading returners from last season in catches are a pair of running backs, Carlos Washington Jr. with 17, and senior running back Evan Gray with 12. Senior tight end Justin Malone-Woods had nine.
Among wide receivers, senior Mike Vailas and sophomore Brian Espanet had three catches each.
Who might emerge out of the group remains to be seen.
“That’s something that’s going to be answered,” McDonnell said. “You’ve got Espanet. You’ve got Mike Vailas. You’ve got (sophomore) BJ Hill. You’ve got (redshirt freshman) Charles Briscoe. C.J. Turner’s been hurt with a hamstring again this summer. He’s expected to give us depth.”
After practice Thursday, McDonnell said that freshman receiver Griffin Helm has had an impressive camp thus far.
McDonnell mentioned defensive back Tyrell Wiggins, linebackers Oleh Manzyk and Zedane Williams and offensive lineman Dylan Poirier as other freshmen who have opened eyes early in camp.
Mentally tough QBs
Freshman Max Brosmer, redshirt freshman Bret Edwards and sophomore Tommy Herion, who saw a little playing time last season and is the only quarterback with collegiate experience, continue to be the leading candidates for the starting job.
“The first thing I want is a guy who’s accurate and understands where the ball needs to go,” said quarterbacks coach Ricky Santos. “We’re throwing a lot of stuff at these guys. We practice really, really fast. We play at a frenetic pace so the games slow down. Within that I want a guy that can just move the chains and make his teammates better. . . . We need guys that are mentally tough. We need leaders out there. Football’s a game where adversity is going to set in. Can they be somebody who inspires hope in their teammates?”