EAST LANSING — It’s now well documented that Michigan State returned just 12 catches heading into 2017. Not touchdowns or players, catches.
It doesn’t take much to imagine how excited MSU wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel is at the prospect of returning his three top pass-catchers this fall, including potential All-American Felton Davis III and rising sophomore Cody White.
“The competition for them is to increase their ability to make plays,” Samuel said at Michigan State’s annual media day. “Darrell [Stewart]’s skill-set is different than Cody’s. Cody’s is different than Felton’s, so I have something that is an advantage to me to move it around.”
The trio combined for 140 receptions, 57 percent of quarterback Brian Lewerke’s completions last year. With the offensive line focused on keeping Lewerke’s eyes downfield, Samuel knows that a big year for Lewerke could pay dividends for the 6-foot-4 Davis in his final season in East Lansing.
“If we maximize our routes, Brian will find us,” the ninth-year receivers coach said. “That’s what I want my guys to accept. If you maximize your opportunity, Brian will get you the ball. I think they did a good job during the summer of really spending time with Brian and learning the routes, expressing what they see. They took another step chemistry-wise.”
Davis caught nine touchdowns last year after having just 14 total catches in his first two years. After 2016, there were fears that the Richmond, Va. native may have missed out on a big career in East Lansing before his breakout 2017. With the amount of talent surrounding Davis, he’s optimistic about the offense’s potential following a down year in scoring (24.5 points per game) last fall.
“I feel like we can be whatever we set our minds to,” Davis said. “I know in 2014, the offense averaged 42 points a game. Playing here at Michigan State, 42 points a game is amazing so I talk to our guys all the time about even trying to top that. They had all types of talent everywhere and I feel like we’ve got just as much talent as they had now.”
Davis has added to the seemingly endless hype around the team’s chemistry this year after safety Khari Willis mentioned MSU’s atmosphere as the best he’s had in his football career.
“It’s a different type of brotherhood,” Davis said. “Even being on the field, everyone’s working hard but it’s outside of football where the camaraderie we’ve got, it’s something different.”
Stewart finds himself being pushed by White for the second starting spot at receiver, but as one of the most colorful personalities on the offense, he knows that the chemistry in the receivers room will pay off regardless of who’s on the field.
“I feel like there’s a lot more unknown that we can show everybody [this year],” the Houston, Tex. native said. “We’ve got a lot of secret weapons that are coming out this year, but I don’t want to say too much.”
Stewart caught 50 passes last year and picked up crucial touchdowns against Notre Dame and Penn State. The only problem was that those were his only two scores of the year. The junior isn’t worried about who scores as long as he can help Davis and White, two of his best friends on the team.
“I can always build every year,” Stewart said. “That’s why I’m so excited, you always find out something each year. Every day I wake up happy to play football, I’ll let the stats be the stats.”
Samuel is focused on getting the most out of the talent he has given the number of skill players returning across the offense.
“I have to be smart with how I move guys around. The guys are competing, but it’s not with each other. They’re competing with themselves to get better.”