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Coastal Carolina sophomore receiver caught up this time around
Sophomore receiver missed most of preseason last year
This time last year, as the Coastal Carolina football team was prepping for another season and newcomers to the program were getting acclimated to the playbook and such, rookie receiver Matt Hazel was home recovering from mono.
He would miss just about all of preseason camp, leaving him well behind the rest of the team’s receivers and slowing his assimilation into the offense and college football in general.
But by the end of the season, Hazel had nonetheless managed to tie Jerome Simpson’s program record for touchdown catches in a game and also finish among the Big South’s leaders in touchdown receptions while showing down the stretch why the coaches had been so high on him from the start.
And as the Chants get preseason practice underway again, the sophomore is no longer playing catch-up but rather seems poised to be one of the team’s more intriguing talents this year – even if the coaches aren’t quite ready to put it in those terms.
“We’re just going to try to continue what he’s been doing,” CCU receivers coach Maurice Drayton said. “We’re going to try to continue to build what he can be. We don’t want to anoint him just yet. We’ve got to keep him hungry, which he is very hungry right now. He’s very determined, he’s focused. We just look forward to watching him continue to grow.”
Hazel said he added by about 20 pounds over the offseason, bulking up for an increased role. His confidence in himself and comfort in the Chants’ offense have grown as well after that promising finish to the 2010 campaign.
“Now my role’s going to be a little more important. I know I’m going to be on the field a little bit more, so I’ve got to be in better shape, taking more hits, running more routes,” he said. “I’ve got to be on the field to help my team.”
Hazel finished his freshman season with 20 catches for 276 yards and five touchdowns – including three against rival Liberty – but he acknowledges that it was a challenging first year at times, from learning the playbook, to watching from the sideline to pick up nuances of the offense to simply adjusting to the speed and physicality of the collegiate game.
“I feel like I’m in a lot better shape than last year,” he said Friday. “Some days I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can keep doing this.’ Now I’m just in better shape, gained a little more weight – overall I feel better.”
Drayton said he doesn’t want to put too much weight on Hazel’s shoulders too soon, and he says he’s confident in the ability and depth of the Chants’ receiving corps. But the fact remains that group lost its two most productive contributors with the graduation of Brandon Whitley (40 catches for 545 yards and six TDs) and Marquel Willis (29-446-4).
With speedy South Carolina transfer DeMario Bennett expected to miss the season for academic reasons, the team will be counting on players like junior Akeem Wesley (5 catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns in 2010), junior Adrian Sullivan (7-43-0), senior Jamaul Boswell (1-13-1), junior Chris Floyd (4-40-0) and senior Dushawn Davis (0-0-0) to step up into larger roles – all the while hoping Hazel can build on the flashes he showed late last season.
“Matt came on and did some nice things,” CCU coach David Bennett said. “We thought he was very special. He’s got a chance to keep getting better. He can’t be complacent. He has to stay hungry – you know, does he want to be the type of player that is all-conference, is all-American, that has a chance to play this game on Sunday? He’s got a lot of work to do if that’s his goal, but he’s blessed with some talent.”
As for his own expectations for this season?
“Only time will tell,” Hazel said. “That’s all I can really say. I mean, I pray I do good or whatever. I hope this is a good season for me, but I just have to keep working at it.”
For the second straight day, the Chants’ attempt at their first outdoor practice of the preseason was thwarted by the weather. The offense and defense instead took turns practicing inside the baseball/softball hitting facility and Kimbel Arena.
“The good Lord is teaching us patience,” Bennett said. “… It’s kind of like when you get married, you can’t wait for your wedding night. You know, it just builds it up.”
By Ryan Young, The Sun News