Nian Taylor, Shawn Tims, Chris Jackson, Shawn McWashington and Kevin McKenzie. Those names are instantly recognizable to Cougar football fans everywhere as “The Fab Five” receiving corps that made Mike Price a genius and Ryan Leaf a star, while bringing us all the way to the Rose Bowl in 1998. The group shared a common theme: None was more important than the other and no one was “The guy”. The group also shared a value for togetherness, sure hands, flashy moves in the open field and a propensity to find the endzone when the Cougs needed a score.
Not sure anyone has forgotten this gem of a play by Jackson from Leaf in the 1997 Apple Cup:
Or Nian Taylor and Jackson running away from UCLA defenders to begin the magical season:
And even though we lost the game, the culmination of big plays by the group in the Rose Bowl, including the Kevin McKenzie and Shawn Tims tds:
The Cougs have seen a slew of even more talented receivers since then, but haven’t had the depth or weaponry that the Fab 5 possessed as a unit. Well, it’s possible the Cougs just may have that depth and even higher powered weaponry now, so which receivers in 2012 are capable of creating the same excitement? Let’s compare the current Cougars to the great receivers in the past 15 years:
1: #86 Jr Marquess Wilson – 6’4, 183
His 2.0: “Chris Jackson” – The big play threat of Jackson always kept defenses honest, he compiled a team best 1005 yards while catching 54 passes and 11 TDs in 1997. Jackson was the flashiest of the Five.
What he has: The emerging superstar Marquess Wilson has a deadly set, combining all the flair and big play ability of Chris Jackson and all the athleticism and size of Devard Darling. His length and adjustment ability to the ball in the air is often too much for opposing Db’s to handle down the field, while he is deceivingly fast and routinely runs by and away from corners. Also he possesses rare instincts and ball skills in the open field, as he can take a screen or quick out and turn it up the sideline for 80 yards.
What he needs: As good as the kid is in the open field and on the boundary, MW needs to improve on his body control in short spaces, getting lower to make the quick cut and making the “everyday” catch for 3-5 yards. Currently I don’t think he threatens the defense enough in the short passing game and the fear is that defenses will play off to avoid getting beat over the top. Specifically he needs work on his slant routes and quick curl routes to be a complete receiver. He also needs to learn to be a better blocker for his teammates and lastly a better work ethic because Leach demands it.
2: #18 So Kristoff Williams – 6’2, 206
His 2.o: “Kevin McKenzie” – Had the most receptions of the group with 55 and a solid 911 yards with 11 TDs in 1997. McKenzie was the steady force that made all the plays on cue and allowed Jackson to be the big play guy that he was. But more than that, KM made 1 more catch and just as many big plays!
What he has: A big frame similar to that of the great Brandon Gibson (6’0, 210). Williams has very good speed and should be a big play threat on every play that Wilson is doubled. Soft hands allow Williams to be a great option down the field as well.
What he needs: Like Wilson, Kristoff’s work ethic is not the strongest. Also he will have to learn to out-muscle defensive backs for the 50-50 balls. He’s got all the natural talent to be a go-to receiver, and hopefully he works himself into that role in Leach’s offense.
3: #80 Fr Dominique Williams – 6’2, 180
His 2.0: “Nian Taylor” – Totaled the least amount of receptions with only 21 but made them all count with an incredible 25 yards per catch avg. He also scored 6 TDs.
What he has: His frame is not as lengthy, but I think ‘Nique will remind us of the wiry Mike Bush within his role. He should be good for a couple 1 on 1 shots down the middle of the field per game with all of the attention going to the aforementioned Wrs on the outside.
What he needs: Nobody knows how he will catch the ball. Coaches are high on his athleticism but he will have to produce quality catches with the throws that come his direction.
4: #82 So Bobby Ratliff – 6’2, 194
His 2.0: “Shawn McWashington” – Totaled 597 yards on 33 catches for an 18 per catch avg. Scored 3 TDs and sprung Kevin McKenzie for the winning touchdown with “the block” at USC in 1997 (only the 5th win in Cougar history vs the Trojans).
What he has: Even though it’s early in his career, Bobby reminds me of our beloved Jason Hill. The will go fight for a ball in traffic, and for his size he is good in small spaces and has the size to routinely over-match most 3rd and 4th defensive backs in a defensive set.
What he needs: To do all the little things to help the team win. Bobby won’t be a go-to receiver, but he can be a guy that makes a block to spring the other receivers or his running backs downfield, all while making catches when the ball comes his way.
5: #31 Fr Rahmel Dockery
His 2.0: “Shawn Tims” – Tallied 506 yards on 37 catches in 1997. Former Wr Coach Mike Levenseller often touted Tims as “the quickest receiver I’ve ever coached”, his run to the endzone on an end-around in the ’97 Rose Bowl showed us some of that.
What he has: The the quicks to match the skill set of Tims. I would like to see him grow into a pass catching machine over the middle, molding the likes of Michael Bumpus and Sammy Moore, with his burst and breakaway speed.
What he needs: Experience and return game contributions. Leach is the master at coaching this type of receiver into greatness, now all he needs is to play, a lot.
The Fab Five 2.0
What they have: More overall big play capability, a multitude of talent, a and extra weapons: Andrei Lintz is going to be another force over the middle and it is my sincerest hope that Gino Simone or Bennett Bontemps step into Dockery’s spot as the fifth member of this squad. They are both likeable players and if they could just catch the ball in big situations, their experience would prove invaluable to the group and specifically to Tuel.
What they need: To bring it every game. There is definitely inexperience among the group and if MW stays for his senior season I really think this group would be an untouchable force. But right now as a group they are still learning the ins and outs of the Mike Leach offense and as individuals, each is still learning how to really be an impact on every snap. That’s something each of the original Five had, a knowledge of how to impact the game on a play by play basis, regardless of their role in the play. It’s the only way you average the ridiculous numbers they did and it’s something that only experience and hard work can perpetuate.