Four catches seems like modest production for any FBS receiver, but for Idaho sophomore Reuben Mwehla his stat line Saturday against ULM is a foundation for the future excellence he envisions for himself.
Mwehla, a Bellevue, Wash. product, will start this Saturday at New Mexico State with the absences of Dezmon Epps, Jacob Sannon and David Ungerer.
Epps is indefinitely suspended from the program after he allegedly hit his girlfriend early Sunday morning.
Mwehla will go into Saturday with 12 of the 51 catches that non-Epps Idaho receivers have on the season, compared to the 61 passes that Epps has hauled in.
"I see it as a starting point for myself," Mwehla said of his 4-catch performance. "I have high expectations for myself, so I'll get better as the weeks go by."
Mwehla, who redshirted his first season on campus, is a 5-foot-10 speedster who specialized in yards after catch while at Bellevue. His transition to outside receiver has been slow, but opportunities will be plenty for him in Las Cruces.
"Really, really proud of Reuben. His performance was understated because he didn’t have a huge catch or a touchdown but he blocked very well, he played almost the entire game without a break," Idaho receivers coach Charley Molnar said. "He’s on special teams and just really stepped up and made some key catches for us throughout the course of the afternoon."
Two of Mwehla's catches came on heads up plays with Matt Linehan outside of the pocket. Twice, Mwehla ran his route then noticed his quarterback escaping pressure, so he adjusted and found a zone near the sideline to give Linehan an outlet.
"First I ran my route as expected, then as I saw him break the pocket that's when I adjusted a little bit," Mwehla said.
Based on comments from coaches, Idaho's receiver depth chart may go as follows: 1. Callen Hightower, Jr; 2. Reuben Mwehla, rSo; 3. Jante Boston, Fr; 4. Calvary Pugh, Fr;
And add in ... Deon Watson. But first, on the rest of Idaho's receivers.
Callen Hightower (19 catches) will be Idaho's No. 1 receiver in Las Cruces. Hightower sat out of Idaho's 19-16 win at Troy due to coach's decision and only played 10 snaps last week against ULM.
He'll see a significant number of snaps in Las Cruces.
"I expect him to start and I told him that. I said ‘This is your opportunity and you have to practice hard this week,'" Molnar said. "Right now he’s got a real hold on that position so I think he should have it on Saturday."
True freshman Jante Boston, a late addition to the fall camp roster, will round out Idaho's top three. Boston hauled in three catches against ULM for 33 yards in his second start of the season. Boston nabbed two catches at Troy.
"Night and day difference from the first game and the second game with the way he performed," Molnar said. "Again, he had a couple of catches but really the big thing with Jante is just the fact that he looks like he belongs out there. He blocks well, he plays hard he’s fairly assignment sound for such a young guy. He can tell you what’s going on with the defense. I think he has a chance before the year’s out to really help this football team."
The unit will receive support from tight end Deon Watson. Both Watson and Trent Cowan made the transition to tight end from receiver this season, so while Cowan occupies defenses from within the formation, Watson will flex out wide or occupy the slot as a receiver despite mostly working with the tight ends in meetings and practice.
Watson hauled in two touchdowns against ULM, both on the same route streaking down the sideline wide open.
“I played receiver for two years so I feel pretty comfortable with that," Watson said. "Every now and again they have to get the rust off of me, remind me of a few plays, but I feel pretty natural at wide receiver. Tight end, obviously still working on that. I feel pretty good there.”
Lastly, Idaho will also call on true freshman Calvary Pugh. The running back/receiver only has two receptions on the season, but will be counted on to get reps in the slot in Las Cruces.
"He’s definitely going to play, he’s played there in some slot role for us," Molnar said. "I told him ‘we need more out of you in practice and we’re going to expect more out of you on Saturday.' He’s got to play and he’s got to perform, I’d be shocked if the ball doesn’t come his way on Saturday so he’s going to have to catch it and make a play."