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Photo Credit: John Peterson

Garret McGuire Continuing to Trust in Wide Receiver Group’s Depth

August 14, 2023

Nebraska assistant Garret McGuire hasn’t exactly been gifted the most steady wide receiver room for his first season coaching the position at the college level.

The Husker unit has taken some hits since the conclusion of the 2022 season. Along with star Trey Palmer departing for the NFL, they lost Oliver Martin (graduation) and Alante Brown (transfer) early in the offseason. Those two were the team’s fourth and fifth-leading receivers, respectively. More recently, Zavier Betts —  a well-regarded receiver who left the team last offseason but returned after Matt Rhule’s hiring — departed again. Top returning receiver Marcus Washington has dealt with a couple notable injuries throughout the preseason. Transfer Joshua Fleeks was sent home temporarily for being over his weight.

Washington’s setback doesn’t appear to be too serious, so he’s set to make an impact alongside Fleeks and returnee Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda (120 yards in 2022). Billy Kemp IV also joins the room as a key transfer. The team still seems to have a respectable top group for the upcoming season, but behind those aforementioned four names is a group made up mostly of freshmen and less experienced walk-ons.

This hasn’t shaken McGuire, if his comments at Monday’s media availability were any indication. The wide receiver coach expressed his respect and love for Betts, but quickly moved on.

“I kind of want to talk about the guys in that room right now,” he said. “I think they deserve that with all the work they’re putting in right now.”

Due to their experience and production, Kemp IV and Washington are expected to at least be two of the team’s top receivers this coming season. McGuire said he’s been impressed with the former’s work off the field, and the staff has high expectations for him on it.

“On Saturday, I’m like, ‘Hey, guys are looking around for you to go make a play,’ and so we’re challenging him to be that kind of catalyst in that room,” McGuire said. “He can change a football game and just his natural competitiveness and edge is what makes him so special.”

There’s no set timeline for Washington’s return, but his presence has been felt in the meantime. McGuire said he’s been a great teammate and leader, helping coach his fellow receivers.

As far as freshmen go, McGuire is looking for players who “don’t flinch” and attack the opportunity “head-on” this early in their college careers. There’s plenty of well-regarded talents that entered the program in the 2023 class, highlighted by four-star Malachi Coleman.

But potential contributors for the upcoming year aren’t being limited to previously productive players and highly-rated freshmen. A pair of walk-ons, Ty Hahn and Alex Bullock, have been praised by coaches and both spoke to media on Monday. In five combined seasons, neither have a catch, mostly appearing on special teams.

McGuire shut down a suggestion that the latter came out of nowhere to become such a prominent name this fall. He complimented Bullock’s work ethic, discipline and play style.

“He’s showed up every day,” he said. “Showing up every day, he’s busting his tail. He’s just consistent, obviously very disciplined. And you know, he plays with the style of football that we want to play.”

The appreciation goes both ways. Bullock said McGuire has done well in helping the unit understand the playbook and different techniques since he was hired. His influence has gone further than that, though.

“He’s been a big part of my life, not just in college, but he’s like, one of the people that’s believed in me most throughout my life,” Bullock said. “So it’s given me a lot of confidence to go out there and do what I do.”

He said the coach has given that belief to the whole unit, allowing them all to be themselves on and off the field.

Similar to multiple other positions, the wide receiver group faces significant questions heading into the season. New faces will need to step up for the team to reach its goals. McGuire is confident in the work they’ve been doing, and wants that pace to continue ahead of the season opener at the end of the month.

“If we get one better up until [August 31], I think we have 10 or 11 practices left, we’ll be right where we want to be,” McGuire said. “And then throughout the season, this isn’t a sport that you can maintain. You want to get one better on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so that Saturday, it has the same intensity as a Tuesday practice for us.”

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