New generation

Cougar receiving corps young, but not immature

This is the second of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2009 football team. Today: Receivers. Sunday: Quarterbacks

PULLMAN – Jared Karstetter looks around the practice field and notices something surprising. He’s one of Washington State University’s most experienced wide receivers.

“It’s almost a passing of the torch a little bit,” the sophomore from Ferris High said this week. “Hopefully, we can keep the receiving tradition here going.”

Karstetter is able to rattle off a list of recent WSU receivers who set records and moved on to the NFL, including Jason Hill, Michael Bumpus and last year’s teammate, Brandon Gibson. But this is a new group and a new year.

Of the dozen wide receivers on WSU’s roster, only one, walk-on Colin Huemmer, is a senior. And only juniors Daniel Blackledge and Jeshua Anderson, both nursing injuries, have more Cougars game experience than Karstetter and sophomore Kevin Norrell.

That’s fine with WSU’s long-time receivers coach Mike Levenseller, whose name also appears on many of the Cougars’ career receiving lists.

A couple of the reasons Levenseller likes this group is the quick maturity Karstetter showed last season – as a freshman he caught just six passes, but one was the 48-yard, last-minute reception that set up the Apple Cup-tying field goal – and the strides Norrell made over the off-season.

“Kevin Norrell and Jared Karstetter should have been redshirt guys,” Levenseller said of last year’s 2-11 season. “But, by going through last year, the growing pains, they’ve both really surfaced. Now you think this year, we’re deep enough, I can redshirt those guys. You can’t, because they’re two good players.

“Right now, we would be dead in the water without Kevin Norrell being able to play two positions,” added Levenseller, who had earmarked Norrell for the flanker spot. “He’s playing the split end spot and playing really well. … He’s doing wonderfully in that regard. I’m very proud of him and what he’s doing.”

Norrell’s versatility is showing this fall, as four receivers expected to battle for starting spots – Anderson, Blackledge and transfers Johnny Forzani and Jeffrey Solomon – have been out for much of camp. All four are expected back before the Sept. 5 season opener against Stanford.

“The good thing is it’s now,” Levenseller said. “If it’s a week from now, now I’m worried.”

One person who has taken advantage of the opportunity is Gino Simone. The diminutive (5-foot-11, 174-pound) freshman from Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash., has opened eyes with his precise route running, his hands and his toughness.

“He’s shown a maturity level,” Levenseller said. “I’m impressed by his aggressiveness.”

Despite the possibility of a true freshman starting the opening game, Karstetter believes WSU’s receiving corps is improved.

“As a unit I think we’re balanced and tough,” Karstetter said. “If everyone is willing to keep learning from (Levenseller), the sky’s the limit for this group.

“We’ve got enough diverse guys … we’ll be just fine.”

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