Drew Wolitarsky joins 100-reception club

The wide receiver became the 14th Minnesota player to do so Saturday.

Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky holds the ball moments after scoring a touchdown on Indiana State at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.

Image by Chris Dang

Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky holds the ball moments after scoring a touchdown on Indiana State at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016.

by Mike Hendrickson

Before Saturday’s game, 13 players had caught 100 or more receptions with Minnesota.

Wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky joined the exclusive club with his fourth catch of the game against Rutgers.

“I had no idea … someone said, ‘Welcome to the century club,’ and I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Wolitarsky said. “They explained that, but I just want to keep doing well here and finish the season strong.”

Minnesota kept a majority of its receivers last year, as eight of the top nine leaders in receptions stayed on the team.

Last year’s leading receiver, K.J. Maye, was the lone graduate, and Wolitarsky — the second receiver — was the one who was going to fill the void.

He has delivered so far.

The senior wide receiver already has 37 receptions this year — just two under his total from his previous season — and leads the team in receptions by 20.

As the leading receiver, he often matches up against opposing teams’ best defensive backs, something different fromwhat Wolitarsky had experienced in the past.

Against Iowa, Wolitarsky sometimes had to go up against cornerback Desmond King. King was an all-Big Ten First Team honoree last year at cornerback.

“It’s an honor, not nearly as fun … it’s making me work harder,” Wolitarsky said. “I’m doubling myself in practice. Just really working on releases and going hard, because when they get to game, I’m going to have to go full speed for four quarters.”

Most of the Gophers receivers will return next year except for Wolitarsky.

Four of the top five receivers will be returning next year as Brian Smith will have one season left and Tyler Johnson is still in his first year with the Gophers.

But things are different for Wolitarsky.

He’s played in 41 games in his career but only has five regular season games left, including the upcoming matchup against Illinois.

Head coach Tracy Claeys said there is no doubt Wolitarsky has improved this year but would like to see one more thing out of him before he graduates.

“If you want to be great and you want to be remembered, you have to catch the bad [throws],” Claeys said. “He’s made some plays, but we could be more consistent at catching the bad balls.”

Wolitarsky was supposed to have another strong-returning receiver from last year alongside him, but tight end Brandon Lingen has played intermittently in three games this year with multiple injuries.

On Tuesday, Claeys said Lingen would be out for the game against Illinois.

The workload for Wolitarsky has been high and it looks to increase toward the end of the season.

With five games left, Wolitarsky’s role will change, but he’s still the one quarterback Mitch Leidner will look to.

“He’s a guy that I can count on really any time in the game, and I can count on him off the field, too, to be there for me,” Leidner said on Oct. 4. “I’ve had a lot of fun working with [Wolitarsky] and really all of those receivers.”