Receivers look to replace ‘Coach KJ’

The Gophers return close to all of their top targets in 2016 except for KJ Maye.

by Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers return most of their receiving corps from last year with one notable exception. KJ Maye, the team’s leading receiver, graduated in the offseason, and the team will need players to replace his 73 catches from last year.

“[Maye] worked so hard and made big plays. [He] kind of pushed through the group without him even saying anything really to push up their game,” senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said.
Eight of the Gophers top-nine leaders in receptions last year are returning this season.
Maye hasn’t really left the team, though, as he’s come to practices this spring to help coach up some of the team’s receivers.
“Last week, [Maye] came in … like full coach gear, so I called him Coach KJ,” sophomore wide receiver Rashad Still said. “He came to the side, gave us some pointers and stuff. [The receivers] call him Coach KJ now.”
Still said the Gophers receivers will continue to work with Maye after the team’s spring practice wraps up. Maye helped mentor him as a freshman last year he said, and the El Paso, Texas, native put up 194 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns in his first season.
Now, he’s leaning on redshirt junior Eric Cater for support.
“It used to be KJ, but he left. Now, Eric’s like my big brother,” Still said. “He keeps me in line. Whenever I need something, I can call him, and he’ll come pick me up or drop me off. I look up to him.”
Carter finished fourth on the team in receptions and receiving yards last season with 23 and 255, respectively, in 10 games. He used to work out with Maye on Sundays or off days, and the two still keep in contact so Carter can get pointers from his former teammate.
“Even now that he’s gone, we still talk all the time,” Carter said. “When he was down [in Mobile, Ala.,] for the Senior Bowl, we were talking. He just tries to spit me out tips every now and then, help me learn new things and keep me going up.”
Despite seeing extended action for the first time last season, Carter is second among the wide receivers in career receiving yards with 259, behind only Wolitarsky.
Wolitarsky will be the lone senior of the group and said he is more focused on leading the receivers rather than his own statistics.
“I wouldn’t say I really have a specific goal set for yardage, touchdowns and whatnot,” Wolitarsky said. “That’s not really my concern right now. It’s just trying to pull together this group and the offense.”
Even with all the inexperience at the wide receiver position, head coach Tracy Claeys said the group has the potential to succeed.
Wide receivers from the team’s last two recruiting classes can compete for playing time, and the Gophers will add three freshmen to the position in the summer.
“We don’t have a talent problem at wide receiver right now,” Claeys said. “It’s all about consistency and catching the balls that move the chains.”