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Young WRs catching on with CU Buffs

Talented group helping offense get back on track

BOULDER, CO - Nov. 6, 2021: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Montana Lemonious-Criag, left, celebrates his TD with Brenden Rice and La’Vontae Shenault. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Rolling to his left in the third quarter last Saturday at Folsom Field, Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis searched for a receiver.

Eventually, he found fellow freshman Brenden Rice.

In the fourth quarter, with the Buffaloes needing a touchdown, Lewis scrambled again and hit fellow freshman Montana Lemonious-Craig for a score.

As Lewis, a second-year freshman from Melissa, Texas, continues to develop as a passer, he is relying on young receivers.

“Regardless of the grade level, all of us have talent and skill, and we all go hard every day in practice,” Lemonious-Craig, a second-year freshman, said. “At the end of the day it’s football. We make plays, we’re growing as a team, we’re growing as a close-knit team. It makes a difference and we’re just executing.”

BOULDER, CO - Nov. 6, 2021: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado Boulder’s Chase Penry gets a first down against the Oregon State Beavers. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Coming into the season, it was expected that Rice would play a big role and Lemonious-Craig was earning his way onto the field with a good offseason. However, the Buffs are relying on freshmen more than expected.

Before the season, fifth-year junior Maurice Bell suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury. Another fifth-year junior, Jaylon Jackson, has missed the last seven games with an injury.

Fourth-year sophomore Dimitri Stanley has caught 10 passes, but he’s missed the last three games with an injury. And, third-year freshman La’Vontae Shenault missed seven games because of a suspension for violating team rules.

That has all led to numerous youngsters, including true freshmen Chase Penry and Ty Robinson, becoming regulars in the receiver rotation.

“Going into the season, we weren’t thinking that (Penry and Robinson) were going to have a considerable amount of time of getting some quality reps and games,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “Because of the circumstances at that position, they’ve been thrown into the fire earlier than we expected. But to their credit, they didn’t bat an eye with it and they were actually energized about wanting to help the offense the best way they could.”

They certainly have, as freshmen have accounted for 49 of CU’s 113 receptions and seven of the 10 receiving touchdowns.

Granted, Rice and Shenault are only freshmen because of the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the NCAA not counting the 2020 season against eligibility. Nevertheless, they are all inexperienced – and growing with their young quarterback.

“We’ve built a lot of chemistry over the past couple of months,” said Rice, a second-year freshman. “Now you can see like our young cats as Chase, Ty, even Vontae, Daniel (Arias) and Montana, you see everybody’s getting the ball, and that’s what it’s about because we need to spread the ball around.”

Rice leads the Buffs with 18 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns, and he has been the most explosive player on the offense this season.

Lemonious-Craig has caught 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Penry, who has started in Stanley’s place, caught a season-high three passes for 41 yards last week against Oregon State and has been a go-to receiver for Lewis. Five of his eight catches have gone for first downs.

Robinson caught his first career touchdown two weeks ago at Oregon, second-year freshman Chris Carpenter has made a few plays and Shenault returned to the lineup last week.

Dorrell said he can’t remember ever having a younger group of receivers.

“But, it’s a very talented group,” he said. “They’re still skill-developing themselves. They’re not finished products by any sort, but they do flash their ability. … They’re all stepping up and doing some really good things.”

The success of the young receivers isn’t surprising the Lemonious-Craig, who has enjoyed being a part of a talented crew.

“The whole time, we all knew we were ready,” he said. “Injuries happen; you have to be ready when your number is called. We’re a close-knit group in terms of a wide receiver corps; everybody, we’re like brothers.”

Those brothers are just getting started and the future is bright for CU’s receivers.

“Along with being young, we haven’t played a lot of college football,” Lemonious-Craig said. “But coming along with the experience, as we’re learning on the fly, I think it’s pretty cool and we’re developing as a group, not just individually. So that’s really big for us.

“We’ll be together for a minute, so in terms of the group, I feel like the confidence is just constantly on the rise.”

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