Watching Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. takes Troy Calhoun back to his days as an NFL offensive coordinator.
“Andre Johnson, who we had with the Houston Texans,” Air Force’s coach said when asked who Shenault reminded him of. “Andre Johnson was 6-(foot)-2, 218 pounds. ... He was powerful, he was fast. One guy never tackled him, so run after the catch was really, really prominent. The different ways that they utilize him. ... I just have to believe he is definitely a first-round draft pick.”
Johnson had 103 catches that year, leading the NFL. Shenault, nearly identical in size at 6-2, 220, is at 101 receptions through 18 career games.
The Buffaloes use Shenault in a bunch of ways. They’ll line him up at receiver, put him as a wildcat quarterback or bring him in motion and hand the ball off to him. He already has six carries through two games after running for five touchdowns last season.
But it’s as a receiver where he’s most dangerous, amassing 1,011 yards last year with six touchdowns and earning his way onto most preseason watch lists for the position.
“You can tell just by his numbers he’s been a great receiver for them,” Air Force cornerback Milton (Tre’) Bugg III said. “We’re going to have to come out and play our best ball.”
Bugg knows from experience. He was teammates with Shenault (as well as fellow Colorado receiver K.D. Nixon) on the U.S. Under-19 National Team that played against Canada in 2017.
“I covered him in one-on-ones,” Bugg said. “We’ve all gotten better since then, so it’s going to be fun to play in that game.”
Elite receivers are elite for a reason, obviously, but they’ve particularly feasted on Air Force in recent years.
Since 2014, the Falcons have given up 190-plus yards to Colorado State’s Preston Williams, Michael Gallup and Rashard Higgins as well as Utah State’s Hunter Sharp and Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson. Each of those players eventually made an NFL active roster. Western Michigan’s prolific receiver Corey Davis caught eight passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
“I love it,” cornerback James Jones IV said of the matchup with Shenault. “It takes me back to in high school when I was traveling all across the country for camps and all these All-American-type showcases. I crave that type of competition.”
The silver lining for Air Force is that the six prolific games for receivers listed above resulted in Falcons victories.
“We’ve got some excited stuff coming out for you guys,” safety Jeremy Fejedelem said “I’m not going to dive into it. We’ve watched a lot of film on them. Coach Rud (defensive coordinator John Rudzinski) is a genius with defensive schemes, so we’ve got some good schemes coming out.”