By Chris Mackowiak
During the Salisbury University football team’s successful 2015 season, one player always seemed to appear in the clutch situations of the largest games. That player was wide receiver Isaiah Taylor.
Taylor developed a legendary status at Salisbury. In his senior season, the wide-out accumulated 33 receptions for a total of 732 yards and 7 touchdowns. His 732 yards accounted for 58 percent of the team’s receiving yards.
Alongside his role in the offense, he was a central figure on special teams as a returner of both punts and kickoffs. During his career, Taylor built up a total of 2,708 all-purpose yards, part of which for his senior year was 17.8 percent of the team’s total.
Taylor’s stellar 2015 campaign awarded him a spot on the All-New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) second team. The former Salisbury wide receiver also took a trip to the NFL Combine and drew the eyes of many scouts for his speed and physicality.
Now with Taylor in the rear-view mirror along with teammate Max Ehrsam, who totaled 2 receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown, the Sea Gulls will rely on a new wide receiving core fresh with young talent but also filled with questions.
Three of the players that have stepped up to the task to fill the receiving core are sophomore Sean Rowland, junior Brad Rose and junior Josh McClain.
Head Coach Sherman Wood sees it more as a situation for the team as a whole to step up instead of one player living up to the stats of Taylor.
“I think it’s just more of a team attitude,” Coach Wood said. “These guys work well together. They do the small things right, and we don’t have one dominant type person to get something done. So, I think they’re more team-attitude types of guys. They’re a family. They really work well together. They do exactly what we want to do. That’s what you need in this offense, and that’s part of our recruiting too. We recruit kids that just want to be part of a program and that aren’t the ‘me’ guy.”
Each of the three players seem to have their own special talents that they bring to the table out on the field: McClain with experience, Rose as a deep-threat, and Rowland with speed.
“I think Brad Rose is our best deep-threat because of his height. He’s about 6’2”, and he can get down field,” Coach Wood said. “The fastest kid is definitely Sean Rowland. If someone’s playing man on us maybe he can get around them. He can definitely come across the middle and catch and go. I’m a catch-and-go type of guy.”
About McClain, Coach Wood said, “Overall, [Josh McClain] has the most experience. He’s a pure-handed receiver. Very cerebral; definitely gets the job done.”
In the opening win against Albright College, all three showcased on the field in their own way. McClain, who finished with three receptions a year ago, opened his season with two catches including a diving grab on an out-route. Tying McClain for catches in the game was Rowland, who introduced himself to the whole Sea Gulls fan base with his 92-yard kick return touchdown to open the game on his way to being named the NJAC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Despite no catches in the game for Rose, the junior wide receiver racked up numbers in a different category that is special to Coach Wood’s offense. In a triple option offense, blocking is extremely important and sets the movement downfield for the slot backs to find open space.
“If you want to be a total receiver, this is the place to be. If you want to be a total athlete, that’s the way we recruit. We can talk about who the best wide receivers are in the NFL. One of them just retired: Calvin Johnson. Calvin Johnson came from Georgia Tech, which is a triple option program. Demaryius Thomas. Demaryius Thomas is one of the top receivers in the NFL. He came from Georgia Tech. Why did those guys get attention? It’s because of those one-on-one opportunities,” said Wood.
The focus on blocking and being a “total receiver” creates the team atmosphere that is so heavily emphasized by coaches and players. For Rowland and McClain, their goals for the season are all marked team-first.
“Just a small piece to the puzzle; just trying to help our team win. Block for my running backs and catch for my quarterback,” Rowland said.
“Honestly, I have the same goals as last season: just to win every game, every night as long as I do my part to make that happen,” McClain said.
Whether the role on the team is to be a blocker like their offensive lineman or head on a slant route to make a game-changing grab, this receiving core is ready to play.
While the stats may be piling up this season for players like McClain, Rose, Rowland or in the past with Taylor, what truly sets apart the Salisbury University wide receivers may be their team-attitude and blocking ability. So, when the team welcomes Montclair State into town on September 17, watch for what’s going on during the rushing plays because that is the mark of a true receiver in Coach Wood’s offense.