UC Davis 2018-19 Football Season Preview: WR
DAVIS, Calif. — As one might guess, the single most oft-asked question by UC Davis football fans during the 2019 preseason is “how do you replace Keelan Doss?” The short answer is simple: you don’t.
Of course, Doss made his mark on the program during the past four years, posting reception totals of 66, 115 and 118 during the past three seasons, respectively. He was the first Aggie to surpass 300 receptions (321) and 4,000 yards (4,069) and – as of this writing – has positioned himself to snare one of the Oakland Raiders’ roster spots with his performance in that camp.
The longer answer is that no one UC Davis player will replace Doss in 2019, and no one player should have to bear that responsibility solely, but rather, receivers coach Cody Hawkins has a nucleous of six returners who will collectively maintain the aerial game’s high standards this season.
“I’d put us up against anyone in the conference: we are loaded at wideout,” said Hawkins, now in his second year at the position group. “We are extremely talented, and I expect all six of those guys with the potential to have 50 catches.”
One player who has already hit that milestone is preseason All-Big Sky Conference honoree Jared Harrell (62 grabs in 2018), whose per-game averages of 4.8 receptions and 68.9 yards ranked seventh in the league last year. In other words, he had more productivity as the Aggies’ No. 2 performer last year than the leading receiver did on eight other Big Sky teams. “Jared’s a deep threaet. He’s a guy who you’re looking for an excuse to throw him a fade ball or a go ball, one-on-one,” said Hawkins. “He can go up and make those plays.”
Last year’s T. Palmer Moody Award winner (for the team’s outstanding sophomore) is one of three fourth-year receivers in the program. Khris Vaughn has battled injuries throughout his career, and Hawkins credits both the equipment room and sports medicine staff to getting No. 9 to a point where he should contribute for a full season. “Khris Vaughn is the most detailed guy we have in the room. If we say it’s a six-inch step, he will spend hours making sure it’s not six and a half,” Hawkins said.
Another redshirt junior, the “ball of energy” and “hardest worker in the room” known as Darius Livingston, looks to continue his ascension as a receiving target. Livingston hauled in 11 catches in 2018, scoring his first collegiate touchdown against Idaho and earning a start in the NCAA playoff win over Northern Iowa.
Three other young receivers each made memorable splashes in 2018, as if to announce their bright futures in the program. Carson Crawford (25-216-1), now a third-year member of the unit, showed off his incredible versatility in the second half of the Aggies’ road win at Montana last year. Being a former quarterback, he threw a 56-yard pass to Wes Preece in the third quarter, then snared a touchdown of his own to complete the 43-0 outburst. Justin Kraft (26-275-2) scored a 45-yard touchdown then pulled down the ensuing two-point conversion to ignite UC Davis’ comeback from a 16-point deficit against Idaho State. Lance Babb II enjoyed perhaps the most auspicious introduction of any player: his first collegiate reception was a nine-yard TD snare in the NCAA quarterfinal at Eastern Washington. Best yet, Babb appeared in only three games in 2018, meaning he still has four full years of eligibility remaining under the new NCAA rules.
As for Hawkins, he has the joy of working with a group that is not only blessed with physical talent, but one that consists of smart, humble and hard-working student-athletes. And it makes sense, too – the veteran corps of receivers has largely had to wait its turn for the past two years, what with Doss accounting for 233 catches in that span. A selfish player would have no place in Hawkins’ room.
“I’m so fortunate to be coaching here,” said Hawkins. “Receivers often get labeled as being a prima donna position. But these guys are awesome. Davis is a special spot.”
Furthermore, each member of the receiving crew brings varying abilities and strengths. Or, as Hawkins puts it, “they all have different superpowers.” In UC Davis’ uptempo offense that seeks to run 90-100 offensive plays per game, everyone will have their opportunities to catch passes, which also means everyone must also do their part to enable their fellow receivers (or running backs or tight ends) to be most effective.
“One of the most important factors for anything is emotional intelligence and awareness.” Hawkins said. “If you can’t look around our room and think, wow, that guy does this really well, or this guy is impressive at doing that, then you’re not going to make it. That’s the same with the business world. If you go in and you think you’re the biggest, fastest, strongest, smartest, funniest, best-looking guy there, it’s going to be a tough life.
UC Davis begins the business of defending its Big Sky Conference title on August 31 at California.
Note: this Part 7 in a series previewing each UC Davis position group, leading up to the week of the August 31 opener at Cal.