By Zach Greenwell
Senior wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper has seen it all at Western, from an encouraging 7-5 campaign in 2007 to the Toppers’ now-infamous 20-game losing streak.
So as the elder statesmen of the receiving corps, Cooper said he’s taken it upon himself to become a mentor.
“I do whatever I can to help the wide receiver group or anyone else on this team,” Cooper said. “I’ve been here four years. I’ve seen a lot and been through a lot of adversity, so if they come to me, I do my best to help them out.”
Cooper said some of the younger receivers have flashed a lot of potential, including Willie McNeal, who Cooper said has continued to “turn heads” after his MVP performance in the spring game.
“There’s a couple more freshman, and they’re just learning,” Cooper said. “We really don’t know what they can do yet. They’re out there. They’re a little timid. But once they loosen up, we know they can play because they’re here.”
With three quarterbacks still competing for the starting job, Cooper said it takes work to get timing down with each. But until the depth chart is solidified, you have to work with what you have, he said.
“We don’t really have too many lineups so far,” he said. “Everybody’s getting reps with every different person, and it takes time. We don’t know which guys it’s going to be yet, so the more time we get, we have to take advantage of that opportunity.
“You just have to make plays. If the balls in the air and you’re a receiver, go get it. If you’re a running back and he hands it to you, make a play.”
Rainey expects an expanded role out of backfield in 2010
Junior running back Bobby Rainey has had his touches limited thus far in practice — at least during the time media can attend — but Head Coach Willie Taggart said he’s expecting big things from arguably Western’s top playmaker.
“I told Bobby that, ‘If you want to have a great year, you’ve got to be a great leader,’” Taggart said. “’You have all the athletic ability. You’ve done everything. Everyone looks to you when things go bad, so be that leader.’
“The kids a winner. He wants to win. That’s how he’s been since day one when I met him, which I really like.”
Rainey’s scarcity on the practice field is likely because he will almost certainly be called upon to carry the brunt of the load for Western’s rushing attack this season.
Taggart said he’s told Rainey he doesn’t want him to come up just shy of 1,000 rushing yards again, because “almost doesn’t cut it.” But at the same time, Taggart said he doesn’t envision Rainey getting 30 carries a game since other backs will share carries.
“Those other guys have to step up,” Taggart said. “They shouldn’t let up because Bobby’s out here. We’re not just saying it’s a lock that Bobby’s the guy. It’s an open competition, and we’re going to play best guy. All that’s going to do is make Bobby better and the guys behind him better.”
Rainey said Western’s running backs — including reserves Braxston Miller, Keyshawn Simpson and Avery Hibbitt among others — have the physical attributes to be a successful unit if they can couple it with a strong cerebral approach.
“When it’s hot out here, it’s basically just focus,” Rainey said. “We can’t not have that consistent focus one time. If we do that mentally – physically we look good. It’s just that mental focus part.”
While Rainey likely won’t carry the ball 30 times, look for him to have an increased role as a receiver.
The junior has already made some big-time catches out of the backfield in practice this fall from each of the Toppers’ three quarterbacks.
“We have a chance to do a lot of different things with Bobby,” Taggart said. “He’s athletic enough, and we wouldn’t do our team any good if we didn’t find ways to get the ball in his hands.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to have an opportunity to expand your game — not just as a runner and kickoff returner, but as a receiver too. You’re going to be able to show your versatility, so get excited about it and take advantage of it.’”
Taggart said that the only real note on the injury front was that freshman defensive back Jerome Speights is still suffering from a sprained knee. Speights was on crutches Thursday, but that seemed to be more of a precaution.
There were a handful of other Toppers held out of practice, but Taggart said that all of them were out because of a minor illness or having had an IV from the day before.