Like linebacker Zach Johnson, senior gets year back to replace two wiped out because of injuries
Head coach Beau Baldwin would like to see three balls in the air at a time to provide enough receptions to go around.
His already impressive Eastern Washington University wide receiver corp only got stronger when Tyler Hart was notified recently by the NCAA that he was granted a sixth year to complete his football eligibility at Eastern after having two seasons shortened because of injuries.
Expected to be a slot receiver and returner for the Eagles last season as a senior, he missed EWU’s first three games, but returned to catch a nine-yard pass versus Montana State. But he lasted only three plays against the Bobcats before he was injured again and lost for the season. Hart was also lost for the year with a broken scapula in EWU’s fourth game of the 2008 season.
Out of a possible 49 games he could have played from 2008-2011, Hart played in only 28. Last month, linebacker Zach Johnson received his sixth year from the NCAA after having 19 games wiped out because of a knee injury that erased his entire 2009 campaign and most of last season.
Hart and his teammates continue preparations for its 2012 season when spring practice begins at EWU on April 3.
“It’s exciting for Tyler,” said Baldwin. “He’s had a tough go of it with a couple of injuries, so it’s great for him to get a chance to finish his career hopefully healthy. Up until his injury last year he was going to be a big contributor for us. Our goal is to get him back to where he was in fall camp a year ago – he was going to be a strong force in the return game and at slot receiver.”
Hart, a 2007 graduate of Friday Harbor (Wash.) High School, has 43 career catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Originally a running back his first two seasons in the program, he also has rushed 66 times for 278 yards (4.2 per carry) and four touchdowns, and has returned five punts for a 9.4 average and five kickoffs for a 23.2 average.
Brandon Kaufman, an All-America receiver during EWU’s national championship season in 2010, redshirted the 2011 season after suffering hand and knee injuries early in the year. That opened the door for Nicholas Edwards to earn unanimous All-America honors, and for Greg Herd to become EWU’s third 1,000-yard receiver in two seasons.
“It makes us want to have three footballs on the field,” said Baldwin of EWU’s receiver contingent. “It makes it tough for opponents to identify who is going to get the ball – you can’t do it. As a group we’re that much stronger. It forces a defense to cover the entire field and not really be able to decide to try to shut one person down or cloud somebody in coverage. If teams start doing that, a couple of our other receivers will do really well.”
Edwards finished with 1,250 yards (95 catches, 19 touchdowns) and Herd had 1,022 (67 catches, seven touchdowns) in 2011, and Kaufman had 1,214 yards (76 catches, 15 touchdowns) in 2010. Hart, Edwards and Herd will be seniors in the 2012 season, while Kaufman will be a junior.
Other players who lettered in the 2011 season at wide receiver were Ashton Clark (33 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore), Cory Mitchell (19 catches for 310 yards and two TD as a freshman) and Daniel Johnson (two catches for 13 yards as a sophomore).
The quartet of Hart, Kaufman, Edwards and Herd have combined for 127 games worth of experience (72 starts), and have collective totals of 448 catches for 5,842 yards and 59 touchdowns.
“It’s exciting to have that much experience and talent at that position,” added Baldwin. “But at the same time, they have to continue to do a great job, be team players and understand that the goal of the group is much bigger than any goals individually. Our receivers are not only talented, but they are hard-working and have great character. They are most concerned about the success of the team.”
The receivers will have a new quarterback throwing them the ball, as All-American Bo Levi Mitchell completed his eligibility in 2011. He led the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title in 2010 when he was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the national championship game, then won the Walter Payton Award after a senior season in which he passed for 4,009 yards and 33 touchdowns.
“I would give anything I could to come back and play with these guys again,” Mitchell said in January after he won the Payton Award. “You have three 1,000-yard receivers, two of them All-Americans who have set records. Plus you have my brother, Ashton Clark and Tyler Hart all coming back. It’s a group of receivers I can put the ball anywhere and they will go make plays. The quarterback next year has to really be drooling knowing they have such a talented receiving corp to throw to.”