LEWISBURG, Pa. – For three-straight seasons, Bucknell could rely on Will Carter to make plays down the field. A two-time All-Patriot League pick, he graduated as the Bison’s all-time leader in career receptions (195) and career receiving yards (2,744), breaking Tom Mitchell’s 51-year-old records in both categories.
“We graduated one of the best ever here in Will Carter, but I’m excited about our group of wide receivers,” said head coach Joe Susan. “Overall, they’re talented, and that gives us flexibility to play a lot of guys so we can keep them all fresh.”
And they're also motivated. Jack Horan echoed Susan, saying Bucknell will have the ability to spread the ball around this year.
"Obviously, Will was a great player for us," he said. "With him gone, we realize we have to come together as a group, and we have to play even better as a group. So we're all working hard at our craft and doing what we can out on the field. I think we're going to get good touches from everyone."
The most experienced returnee is Alan Butler, the lone junior of the group who has 17 games, and nine starts, under his belt. With 432 career receiving yards, he leads all returnees; he was also one of four Bison to surpass 200 receiving yards in 2016.
“He has played a lot of football for us during his two years here,” Susan said. “He has good speed, good adjustment to the ball and very good hands. We expect great things out of Alan.”
A pair of seniors, Horan and Kyle Kinner, saw their first game action in 2016. Horan, a converted quarterback, finished second on the team with 239 yards. He averaged 14.9 yards per catch, .1 away from tying Carter for the team lead, and hauled in two touchdown throws.
“Jack was one of the more pleasant surprises we had last year,” Susan said. “He’s disciplined in his routes and has excellent hands. Since he has a season of wide receiver under his belt, we’re excited to see how much better he gets.”
As for Kinner, he racked up 148 receiving yards in Bucknell’s final four games of the season, posting a career-best 64 at No. 9 Charleston Southern.
“Kyle made some outstanding catches going across the middle and has confidence in that,” Susan said. “He got better as the season went on last year.”
The lone freshman to make an appearance at wide receiver a year ago, Justin Bethea totaled 88 yards on eight catches. A key contributor on special teams, he finished fifth on the team with 260 all-purpose yards thanks to his 167 kickoff return yards. Bethea is expected to take on an expanded role in 2017 as Butler’s backup.
“Justin did a lot for us as a true freshman,” Susan said. “I’m excited about getting him back and seeing what he can do in an even larger role.”
Susan is also interested to see what Mike Balzofiore, last season’s Special Teams Scout Team Player of the Year, can do.
“He really has some great straight-line speed,” he said. “He can take the top off a defense, and I know he’s going to work his tail off to get his reps.”
Balzofiore said competing against the Bison defense day in and day out will only make the wide receivers, and the entire offense, better.
"We have probably the best defense in the Patriot League, and it's great for us as an offense," he said. "They make us better every single day, and that's exactly what we need to do. They test us; we test them. It's just a great competition all around."
NOTES: Bucknell has 10 wide receivers on the roster: three seniors, one junior, three sophomores and three freshmen ... Assistant coach Steven King will again guide the Bison wide receivers ... Last season, Bethea started four games, the most among freshmen; he was one of only four to start at least one game, joining quarterback John Chiarolanzio, linebacker Sam Chitty and running back Chad Freshnock ... Butler and Horan have taken the majority of reps with the first team ... Horan and Kinner have been vocal during practice, guiding the underclassmen through drills and giving advice on the sidelines ... Horan is one of Bucknell's two returning CoSIDA Academic All-District II honorees, joining tight end Andrew Podbielski ... Steven Walier, who is also a member of Bucknell's track & field team, has looked strong running intermediate routes and made a few difficult catches ... Running backs Joey DeFloria and Freshnock have caught their share of screen passes ... Butler praised freshman wide receivers Blais Herman, John McGuire and David McWilliams: "They work hard. They're taking advantage of their opportunities. Every opportunity they get, they're putting in effort, doing everything they can."
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