Catch Factory: Destrehan receivers finding rare form at next level

Justin Jefferson

Much like LSU has become known as “DBU” on the college level for the rate the Tigers churn out strong defensive back prospects, Destrehan High may need to come up with a moniker for its wide receivers lineage at this rate.

Two former Wildcats wideouts, Justin Jefferson of LSU and Kirk Merritt of Arkansas State, were named to preseason watch lists for some of college football’s most prestigious awards. Jefferson and Merritt were each named to the Biletnikoff watch list for the nation’s most outstanding pass receiver, while Merritt was also named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list for the nation’s most versatile major conference player, and to the Maxwell Award watch list for the nation’s best all-around football player.

But that’s not all: John Williams of Memphis, now a senior, was named to the Athlon Sports Preseason All-America team, earning honors as punt returner on the All-America third team.

John Williams

For a Destrehan receiving line that also includes Damaris Johnson – who holds the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage from his days starring at Tulsa — and  a number of fellow high Division I receiver signees, it’s quite an accomplished fraternity to say the least.

“You know, we’ve been very blessed at Destrehan,” said Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux. “We’ve been blessed with some very, very talented kids that have come through here. We have great assistant coaches who do a tremendous job preparing them and setting them up to be advanced once they get to college, be it in the weight room or on the practice field. It makes you feel good and it’s fun to be able to watch those guys go out and be successful now.”

Last year, Jefferson led LSU outright in every receiving statistical category becoming the first Tiger to do since Rueben Randle in 2011. Jefferson was tops among all LSU receivers in receptions (54), receiving yards (875), touchdowns (6) and yards per catch (16.2).
Jefferson finished his sophomore campaign ranked among the Top 12 in the SEC in receiving yards (No. 6 with 875), yards per game (No. 8 at 67.3), receptions (No. 10 with 54), and yards per catch (No. 11 at 16.2).

Robicheaux has called Jefferson deceptively fast with great hands and someone that gets the details right.

“It’s a combination where a kid has talent and is willing to work hard and be coached, so he can develop that talent,” Robicheaux said. “His family was blessed with a lot of raw talent and he’s a fast and agile athlete showing he can be successful at that level.”

Merritt was named First Team All-Sun Belt Conference and the Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2018, in addition to being named to Phil Steele’s First Team All-Sun Belt preseason list.

Kirk Merritt

Merritt played in all 13 games, including 11 as a starter, and finished his first season at Arkansas State with 83 receptions for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns,

His 83 receptions were the third most in school history, while also the most in the Sun Belt during the 2018 season.

Merritt averaged 6.4 receptions per game, the 20th highest in the nation, and either led Arkansas State or tied for the team high in receptions in nine of 13 games.

He became the fourth player in school history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and his 1,005 total ranked as third most ever by an A-State player, and led the Sun Belt in receiving yards. Additionally he was ranked 35th in the nation in 2018 for receptions.

“He’s a powerful human being,” Robicheaux said. “He’s a guy who can really go up and get it. He catches the ball so well and he can be a tough matchup for anybody.”

Williams’ honor follows a junior season that saw the 5-foot-9 receiver record 313 yards on returns for 313 yards and a touchdown, the score coming in a win over Tulsa. It was the first touchdown on a punt return since 2015 for the Tigers. He finished that game with 109 punt return yards, fifth ever in Memphis history for a single game.

Career-wise, he ranks sixth all time in punt return yardage with 51 returns for 484 yards, posting a 9.5 average per return for his career.

Nicknamed “Pop,” Williams also flashed playmaking skills as a wide receiver, hauling in 33 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll enter this season as the second-leading returning receiver for Memphis.

“John’s a little bit different than Kirk … he’s real shifty, smaller but very explosive,” Robicheaux said. “He was especially dangerous as a punt returner. I remember one big return in particular that effectively put the game away for us. He’s that smaller, Damaris Johnson type of guy who understands the return game but also gets it done as a wide receiver.”

The pipeline of wideouts has been strong. And it’s certainly not drying up anytime soon, it seems: Quincy Brown, just about to kick off his senior season for the Wildcats, hauled in three touchdowns in this year’s Wildcats’ spring game scrimmage, no surprise for a player who’s been highly sought after among teams in the Division I ranks.

“We have one this year who can go right up with any of those guys in Quincy,” Robicheaux said. “I think we’re very fortunate where we’re at.”

 

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