When Colorado quarterback Sam Noyer needed to make a play in the passing game last season, he often turned to La’Vontae Shenault or Dimitri Stanley.
By season’s end, it was Shenault and Stanley leading the Buffs in receiving, as it was somewhat of a changing of the guard at the position.
Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown went to the NFL in 2020, while KD Nixon was hobbled with an injury to start the season. (Nixon has since transferred to Southern California.)
As the Buffs look ahead to the fall, it is La’Vontae Shenault and Stanley who are once again projected as the top two receivers. Head coach Karl Dorrell isn’t ready to proclaim them as the leaders of the group, however.
“I really don’t see them as leaders yet,” Dorrell said as the Buffs wrapped up spring practices last month. “That’s what they want … but they’re not there yet. They need to start taking care of themselves and still being consistent and performing and being dependable. Those are things that I think that really lend in to part of the leadership process. Guys look up to you in your positions when you’re the guy that is consistently making plays.”
Shenault and Stanley are on their way to doing that.
Including the Alamo Bowl (which CU doesn’t count in season/career records), Stanley caught a team-high 20 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown last season, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
Shenault was suspended twice — for the opener and the bowl game — but caught 17 passes for 193 yards, ranking second on the team in both categories.
This spring, both played well and Shenault took significant strides in rebounding from a tough 2020 off the field.
“I love the way La’Vontae attacks the group, keeps them accountable,” CU offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini said during a CU-produced virtual show last month. “Dimitri Stanley is a veteran that’s played a lot of football and is very savvy.”
Shenault and Stanley are the top two returners, but it is a position that is once again loaded with talent.
Brenden Rice flashed his potential last year, with six catches for 120 yards and a team-high two touchdowns. Maurice Bell had some big moments, as well, finishing with 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. And, Jaylon Jackson is a veteran slot receiver who has big-play potential.
Chiaverini said Daniel Arias can’t be overlooked, either.
A 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior with speed, Arias has been a top breakout candidate the past two years but caught just six passes for 105 yards last year. He has 10 career catches.
“People ask me, ‘Well what happened with Daniel last year?’” Chiaverini said. “People forget that Daniel got hurt against Stanford (in Week 2). He had a high ankle sprain and … he wasn’t the same player after he got injured against Stanford. He’s had a phenomenal spring.”
There are also high expectations for a group of returning freshmen that includes Rice, Chris Carpenter, Montana Lemonious-Craig and Keith Miller III. True freshmen Chase Penry and Ty Robinson will join the group this summer.
“We have a lot of really talented players that are fighting for playing time and I tell them this, ‘Look, at the end of the day, it’s going to be about what you do in practice that’s going to get you reps in games,’” Chiaverini said. “They’re fighting for those opportunities right now.”
It’s a sure bet that Shenault and Stanley will get a lot of opportunities. They were favorite targets of Noyer last season, and freshmen quarterback Brendon Lewis found them often this spring.
“Both of those guys are amazing wide receivers,” Lewis said. “Vontae is a guy who I know if I put the ball around him, he’s going to go get it. He’ll always be open. Dimitri is the same way. He’ll always be open.
“Those guys are definitely veterans on the field and you can tell by the way they carry themselves.”
Dorrell holds his players to a high standard, though, so he wants to make sure the focus of the receivers is to continue to work.
“We need to make sure that that group gets better,” he said. “This summer is going to be really important and we need those two guys (Shenault and Stanley) and many other guys in that group to really take on the work that’s going to help us be a great receiving corps.
“I think that group has some talent. It just needs to continue to come forward. It needs to have consistency in their production, as well.”
Luckett to transfer
On Monday, sophomore cornerback Tarik Luckett put his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
Recruited as a receiver in 2019, Luckett moved to cornerback that fall. He played in six games, with two starts, in 2019, recording eight tackles and two pass breakups. Luckett missed all six games last year with an injury and was a backup at corner this spring.
With Luckett leaving, CU has 91 scholarship players projected for next season; two above the maximum of 89 allowed.