Sept. 1, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
MORGANTOWN - On this opening day of Marshall's 114th football season, here's a prediction:
The Thundering Herd is going to win at least seven games in the regular season, then head to one of Conference USA's six bowls. Hawaii would be nice, but let's not get picky. It's early.
One reason for the Herd optimism by many is the return to health for redshirt senior wide receiver Antavious Wilson. Plenty of Herd fans seem to have written off Wilson. He became something of a forgotten man after a freshman debut that offered so much promise.
Wilson, of Pahokee, Fla., made 60 catches as a 2009 rookie. He had only 58, combined, in the last two seasons. His numbers in 2012 at the Z receiver spot - where he's the starter -- could return to his freshman level, although Coach Doc Holliday has plenty of other options in the passing game.
"We've got to get him the ball more," Holliday said recently.
As for the aforementioned "plenty of Herd fans, many of them don't know that the 6-foot-1 Wilson has more career catches than senior teammate, NFL prospect and offensive headliner Aaron Dobson - even though Wilson has played through two diminished seasons.
Wilson opens his final season with 118 catches, 14th in Herd history and 21 behind 13th-place Troy Brown. Dobson is in 18th place, with 108, one behind another former NFL player like Brown - tight end Mike Bartrum.
In November of his first season, Wilson made 13 catches for 152 yards in an Edwards Stadium loss to Southern Miss. Only four players in Herd history have more receptions in a single game - Josh Davis, Denero Marriott and David Foye (15) and Mike Barber (14).
"I think I'm overlooked, but it doesn't faze me," Wilson said after a Herd practice earlier this week. "They look at Aaron, he's a big guy, deep threat. He catches balls one-handed, backhanded, every way, and he's a big pretty boy.
"I love him to death. We're like brothers. He's a great, great receiver, but we're two different receivers.
"He's a deep threat, goes down the field for long balls. I'm a move-the-chains receiver."
Wilson's fortunes changed in early November 2009, when during a home win over UTEP he "was blocking, and our quarterback (Brian Anderson) got tackled into my (right) knee," he said. "The meniscus tore with other stuff."
Wilson's season ended with 29 receptions for 342 yards and five touchdowns and he subsequently underwent surgery. He returned last season, but wasn't the same, and while Dobson was emerging, Wilson had only 29 catches again, for 462 yards and one score.
"I wasn't anywhere near 100 percent," Wilson said. "I didn't feel like I was close to what I was. I was still trying to recover. This year, I feel back to my old self, 100 percent.
"I'm totally back, looking forward to having my best season at Marshall."
Wilson appreciates Dobson for another reason. When the Herd star draws attention, that leaves the other sideline and inside routes open for Wilson.
"I didn't get the ball a lot last year," he said. "I feel my number's going to get called a lot this year. It helps a lot if they double-team Aaron. It's going to open things up for me and the other receivers.
"We have a lot of good receivers here now. And when they see they can't afford to double him, have to play equal, play man, then that's when we can really kill `em.
"Plus, we've got a lot of great running backs. That's going to help the passing game out a lot. You can't key on the pass. Yeah, I can get back to where I was the first couple of years, the way the offense is, fast- paced. I can get back to where I want to be."
Wilson said he didn't think many Marshall fans knew where his numbers ranked, and while that doesn't rankle him, he also knows his Herd career could have turned out much better. He begins the season with 1,528 career receiving yards, which ranks 21st on the Herd's all-time list.
With the Marshall offense having more weapons and a stronger and deeper offensive line seemingly ready to provide what Holliday wants and needs, another key will be the connection between sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato and his receivers.
Wilson said the take-the-reins attitude displayed by Cato is something that has opened even the eyes of teammates in preseason camp.
"With Cato having a year under his belt, it really helps us, because the offense is going to open up," Wilson said. "He looks like he's been here three, four years now, the way he's out there, leading, doing all kinds of stuff.
"He's throwing better. His ball gets to you faster because he's stronger. With him like that, it's going to be a big year.
"My goals now are to just go out and do the best I can to help this team. This is my last year. I want it to be my best year, win a conference championship, something I haven't experienced since I've been here."
A look at where Marshall senior wideouts Antavious Wilson and Aaron Dobson stand in Thundering Herd career receiving (through 2011 season):