by Matt Dougherty, Executive Director of I-AA Football
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - None of this year's I-AA wide receivers will match the professional accomplishments of Jerry Rice.
That's not a slight, and it's not exactly a bold statement, either. The top I-A receivers won't challenge Jerry Rice's records. Even the best NFL receivers are going to pale in comparison to the greatest wideout and arguably the greatest player in the history of the game.
Rice retired before the 2005 season with NFL records in receptions (1,549), yards (22,895) and touchdown receptions (198) in his career and single-season marks in yards and touchdowns. He also holds NFL records for most seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards (14), games with at least 100 receiving yards (76) and consecutive games with at least one reception (274).
The regular season numbers are gaudy, but Rice's postseason heroics cemented his place among NFL legends. Rice ranks as the top wide receiver in postseason and Super Bowl history in receptions, yardage and touchdowns. He was the Super Bowl MVP in 1988, earned AP Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1987 and 1993, and was a member of the NFL All-Decade Team in both the 1980s and 1990s. And those three championship rings with the San Francisco 49ers are more significant than any individual accolades.
Star players will come and go, but it would take a lot of personal and team success to supplant Rice's name from the regular season, postseason and Super Bowl record book. But while many of Rice's NFL marks figure to remain untouchable for a long time, some of his I-AA records are in serious jeopardy after more than 20 years at the top spot.
New Hampshire's David Ball has a great chance to overtake at least a few of Rice's (Mississippi Valley State, 1981-84) significant I-AA records. The first one to go should be the touchdown mark, with Ball needing only six TD's to eclipse Rice's record of 50. Ball has caught a touchdown pass in 22 career games, and needs just five more outings with at least one score to break Rice's mark of 26. Ball had 24 touchdowns in 2005, which was three shy of Rice's single-season mark of 27, set in 1984.
Rice's yardage records will be tougher to obtain, but Ball is well within reach. Rice holds the I-AA record with 4,693 career yards, and Ball comes into the 2006 campaign needing 1,153 yards to break that mark. With 17 100-yard games to his credit, Ball is well within striking distance of Rice's standard of 23. Ball notched 1,551 yards and nine 100-yard days in 2005, so a similar season would leave him with I-AA receiving yardage records.
While Ball is on the verge of setting individual marks, two wide receivers at St. Francis (PA) are in position to end a great career together by landing side-by-side in the I-AA record books for receiving duos. Michael Caputo and Luke Palko combined to catch 177 passes in 2005, which was just six shy of the single-season mark set by Rice and Joe Thomas (1983-86) for the Delta Devils in 1984. But Caputo and Palko should etch their names on the career list for receiving duos. With 391 total receptions, the pair is just 30 away from breaking the I-AA record of 420, which was set by Darrell Colbert and Donald Narcisse of Texas Southern from 1983-86. Caputo and Palko also have 4,452 combined yards, and are very much in range of the mark of 5,806 held by Eastern Illinois' Roy Banks and Cal Pierce (1983-86).
There are other strong receivers in I-AA football, with Illinois State's Laurent Robinson coming off a monster season and a trio of SWAC wide receivers looking to cap excellent careers. Maybe someone will even emerge with a historic single-season effort to truly make 2006 a year for the record books.
Top Wide Receivers
1. David Ball, New Hampshire (Sr., 6-3, 185) - It took me one play to realize why David Ball is a special player. I took in my first live New Hampshire game when the Wildcats traveled to Amherst to take on Massachusetts, with first place in the Atlantic 10 North on the line in a battle of a top offense against a top defense. New Hampshire faced a third-and-six play, and Ricky Santos threw a lob up for Ball, who was tightly guarded. Ball jumped up to make the catch, gathered himself and raced across the field to the endzone for a 7-0 New Hampshire lead. The Wildcats won the game, 34-28, and Ball notched nine receptions for 199 yards and four touchdowns. The performance was emblematic of Ball's career at New Hampshire. Ball's numbers were amazing in 2005 (87 receptions, 1,551 yards, 24 touchdowns, 17.83 ypc), especially considering his limited playing time in the second half of five New Hampshire blowout victories. Even with the gaudy statistics, Ball's penchant for coming up in the clutch might be his most impressive attribute. Ball notched nine receptions for 137 yards and a gamewinning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining in a 17-13 win against UC Davis, and had eight receptions for 123 yards and two scores in a 29-26 victory over Hofstra. In the playoffs, Ball turned it up another notch. He had nine receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns in a first-round win over Colgate, and almost carried the Wildcats to victory with 10 receptions for 188 yards and three scores in the quarterfinal loss to Northern Iowa. Ball's extraordinary 2005 campaign followed an equally impressive 2004 season when he had 86 receptions for 1,504 yards and 17 touchdowns. He notched six games with at least nine receptions in that season, and had a breakout performance with 132 yards and two scores in an upset win at Rutgers as well as a career-high 284 yards against Villanova. In three seasons, Ball has notched 100 yards or more in 17 games and scored three or more touchdowns eight times. Ball is the leading active I-AA receiver with 211 catches, 3,541 yards and 45 touchdowns in his career. As noted above, he will go into the history books as one of the greatest Division I wide receivers of all-time.
2. Laurent Robinson, Illinois State (Sr., 6-2, 195) - Coaches go to bed at night dreaming of players that progress like Laurent Robinson did in his first three years at Illinois State. As a freshman, Robinson got his feet wet with 19 receptions for 260 yards. He made an impact as a sophomore with 578 yards and seven touchdowns, and caught at least three passes in nine games. In 2005, Robinson made the leap from solid contributor to breakout star. Robinson notched 86 receptions for 1,465 yards and 12 touchdowns to help Illinois State to a 7-4 record and nearly 270 passing yards per game. He recorded at least six receptions in all but two contests, and tallied six 100-yard efforts. He started out by catching six passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns in a close, 32-21, loss at Iowa State and followed it up with nine receptions for 161 yards and three touchdowns against Drake. Robinson had monster numbers in blowout wins against Southern Illinois (9-180/1 TD) and Northern Iowa (10-243/3 TD) before closing the season in style with a career-high 14 receptions and 292 yards in a victory against Indiana State. Considering his career path, posting career highs in the final game of the season seems fitting for Robinson. He might not have any more room to improve in 2006, but similar numbers will keep Gateway Conference opponents living in fear all season.
3. Tony Kays, UC Davis (Sr., 6-1, 190) - The UC Davis offense was inconsistent in 2005, but no one could blame Tony Kays. On a team that averaged less than three yards per carry rushing the ball, Kays did all he could to keep the Aggie offense going by catching 93 passes for 1,213 yards and three touchdowns. Kays had never recorded more than six receptions in a game at the outset of the 2005 campaign, but he managed to notch double-digit catches in the first four contests of the season. Kays accumulated 12 receptions for 135 yards against New Hampshire, and had a school-record 15 catches with 165 yards and a score the next week against Portland State. In the Aggies' upset win at Stanford, Kays contributed in a big way with 10 receptions for 115 yards. Kays' other double-digit reception games came at an opportune time for the Aggies. He tallied 10 receptions for 182 yards and a score in an easy win against local rival Sacramento State, and had 13 catches for 212 yards as UC Davis knocked off Great West rival Cal Poly for the second year in a row. Cal Poly fans will be thrilled to see Kays depart after the season. In 2004, Kays had 116 yards receiving and scored the gamewinning touchdown with 14 seconds left of a 36-33 win at Cal Poly. It remains to be seen if Kays will torment the Mustangs again, but he should certainly be primed for a big season with quarterback Jon Grant back to lead a UC Davis offense that relies on the aerial attack.
4. Henry Tolbert, Grambling State (Sr.,5-11, 205) - When your quarterback breaks records left and right, there are plenty of balls to go around. But while Bruce Eugene got his receivers the ball, they still had to make the plays. And no one came up with more big gainers for the Tigers than Henry Tolbert, who notched 74 receptions for 1,391 yards and 19 touchdowns. Tolbert's touchdown mark was second to only David Ball among receivers, and his 18.8 yard per catch average placed Tolbert in the top 10 nationally. He had at least one touchdown in 10 of 12 games, and topped the 100-yard mark eight times. Tolbert recorded more than 170 yards in wins against Alabama A & M and Prairie View, and notched 114 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas Pine-Bluff in a rare close game. Even with those strong numbers, Tolbert saved his best for last. In the SWAC Championship game, Tolbert helped spearhead a rout of Alabama A & M by posting career highs with 11 receptions, 284 yards and four touchdowns. Eugene won't be throwing the ball in 2006, but Tolbert leads a group of talented receivers that should keep the Tiger passing game from falling too far.
5. Tyrone Timmons, Mississippi Valley State (Sr., 6-3, 210) - While Ball sets his sights on Rice's I-AA marks, Timmons will look to move his name closer to the 49er legend in the Mississippi Valley State record books. Timmons notched 62 receptions for 1,059 yards in 2005, and became the first Mississippi Valley State receiver to notch 1,000 yards since 1986. Timmons' breakout performance came in a breakout win for the Delta Devils. He set career highs with 13 receptions and 177 yards and scored a touchdown in a 31-28 win against Southern one week after scoring twice against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. After a modest stretch through the middle of the season, Timmons erupted for 211 yards and two touchdowns when Mississippi Valley State scored a win against Alabama State. Timmons has 1,680 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career despite missing most of the 2004 season. Timmons is considered one of the top NFL prospects in the I-AA wide receiving class, and should be in position for a big season for a Delta Devil offense that loves to throw the ball.
6. Michael Caputo, St. Francis (PA) (Sr., 5-11, 170) - He might not face the best competition or play on the best team, but Caputo's accomplishments make him a top receiver regardless of the circumstances. Caputo led all I-AA receivers with 92 receptions, was third in the nation with 1,433 yards, and tied for fifth nationally with 12 touchdowns to lead a St. Francis offense that finished as of the best through the air in 2005. The reception and yardage totals broke Northeast Conference records. Caputo notched a career day with 14 receptions for 294 yards and three touchdowns in a loss at Sacred Heart, and the yardage total held up as the top mark in Division I football in 2005. He had a stretch of six consecutive 100-yard games and four straight double-digit reception efforts late in the season. Caputo enters his senior season with 182 receptions, 2,607 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career, which puts him in very elite company. Caputo is fourth among active receivers in catches, second behind Ball in yardage, and third in touchdowns.
7. Maurice Price, Charleston Southern (Jr., 6-1, 190) - Price doesn't show up on the national rankings for I-AA wide receivers in 2005 because he only played eight games, but his numbers and production put him at the elite level in the sub-classification. Price had a breakout season as a sophomore with 72 receptions for 1,043 yards and seven touchdowns, which left him with averages of 14.5 yards per catch and 130 yards and nine receptions per game. Price had huge games late in the season as Charleston Southern won its last five contests. He tallied 144 yards and four touchdowns against Savannah State, and had 13 receptions for 171 yards and two scores against Liberty. Price showed glimpses of his potential in 2004 with 401 yards in only seven games played, and is the active I-AA leader with 96.3 yards per game. With Collin Drafts back at quarterback, Price figures to have an opportunity for another successful season in 2006.
8. Charlie Spiller, Alcorn State (Sr., 6-0, 185) - If Charlie Spiller can get his hands on the ball, he's probably going to run for a while. Alcorn State's passing game slipped in 2005, but Spiller did all he could to keep it going by averaging 21 yards per catch and tallying 38 receptions, 794 yards and four touchdowns. Spiller notched three 100-yard efforts as Alcorn State began to pick it up late in the season. While the passing game was stalled, Spiller found another way to make an impact by averaging more than 27 yards per kick return. In a win over Mississippi Valley State, Spiller took over the game by bolting for a pair of 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns and recording 163 yards and a touchdown receiving. Spiller was used exclusively at wide receiver in 2004, and had an impressive season with 50 receptions for 1,111 yards and nine touchdowns as the Braves excelled in the passing game. Spiller also had seven touchdowns on only 20 receptions as a freshman in 2003, and has 20 touchdown receptions in his career.
9. Sam Logan, Indiana State (Sr., 6-1, 205) - Even bad teams have bright spots, and Logan has emerged as the shining light for the Sycamores during a pair of dismal seasons. Logan was a consistent performer and tallied 77 receptions for 849 yards and five touchdowns while the Sycamores suffered through a winless season a year ago. He had at least six receptions in eight of 11 games, and did all he could to get Indiana State over the hump in two of its closest losses. Logan broke the Gateway Conference single-game record with 17 receptions in a 27-15 loss to Murray State, and almost led the Sycamores to a conference victory with 13 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-27 loss to Missouri State. Logan built on a successful 2004 campaign where he tallied 55 receptions for 760 yards, and has six 100-yard days and 147 receptions for 1,850 yards in his career.
10. Duvaughn Flagler, Gardner-Webb (Jr., 6-1, 205) - The Bulldogs boast a deep and talented wide receiving corps, but Flagler was able to emerge as the star of the group with a breakout season as a sophomore. Flagler was a bit up and down at times in 2005, but had enough huge games to end up with 55 receptions for 826 yards and 13 touchdowns. Early in the year, he posted strong efforts against Tennessee-Martin (95 yards, 2 TD) and Furman (8 receptions, 70 yards). Flagler also came up big with 141 yards and two scores in a win against VMI, but it was his performance in the season finale against Wofford that left a lasting impression. Flagler caught 14 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance in an eventual 56-42 loss. Flagler averaged 15 yards per catch, and exhibited the ability to make clutch plays by tallying 13 touchdowns.