New Hampshire Football Report

UNH has depth at receiver

Allen Lessels
UNH Insider

DURHAM – Last year, they combined for 117 catches, 1,354 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

Junior Neil O’Connor and sophomore Malik Love are back to lead the crew of receivers on the University of New Hampshire football team into the 2017 season.

A year ago, the Wildcats came into the season with little experience at receiver and looking for a few reliable pass catchers. Then they lost their most veteran player, senior Kyon Taylor, to injury before the second game of the season.

O’Connor and Love proceeded to step up. Love had 59 catches for 520 yards and a score a year ago. O’Connor had 58 catches for 834 yards and six TDs.

“The meat of our production comes back at the receiving positions,” said Michael Ferzoco, the assistant coach who works with wide receivers. “Neil obviously had a tremendous year and Malik was very productive in the slot. They’re two guys who are very smart. They’re savvy. They know how to play the game and they can play multiple positions for us, inside and outside.”

The Wildcats are closing in on the end of spring practice. The spring session concludes with the annual Blue-White Spring Game on April 29 at noon in Wildcat Stadium.

While O’Connor and junior Kieran Presley have been sidelined some during the spring because of injuries, Love has shined.

“Malik Love has had an outstanding spring so far, running routes and competing,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. “He’s done a really nice job catching the ball. Done a really nice job running the ball. Every time we put him in position to do something with the football, he’s been productive.”

Love, O’Connor and the rest will look to bring more big plays to the offense.

“They know how to play the game and they can play multiple positions for us, inside and outside,” Ferzoco said. “That versatility allowed them to do a lot for us last year. We’ll look for them to expand on that this year and hopefully add some more X-play potential with their games and we can get some home runs.”

Love dealt with nagging injuries last year.

“Malik has a knack for catching the ball in traffic and being able to maneuver his body around safeties and linebackers to find open windows,” Ferzoco said. “Unfortunately he played most of the year last year nicked up so you didn’t get a chance to see some of his big-play ability. It’s showing up this spring. When we get him matched up against safeties and linebackers, it’s a matchup we like to have.”

O’Connor averaged 14.4 yards a catch last season.

“He’s very smooth and has a great ability to track the ball in the air and come down with it,” Ferzoco said. “He had a lot of deep ball catches last year on the sidelines or on the perimeter. He’s also a player that knows how to find open windows and get to open spaces and make himself a good target for the quarterback. . . . Neil has a way of weaving in and out of traffic and not getting tackled by the first defender.”

The Wildcats are also looking to people like Presley, injured most of last season, and sophomore tight end Justin Malone-Woods, for big plays.

“Kieran’s probably our most explosive receiver,” Ferzoco said. “If we’re able to keep him healthy, we should have a pretty good group, especially with the young guys that are coming along.”

Malone-Woods leads the tight end group.

“We have three or four guys who are really rolling right now,” said assistant coach Chris Zarkoskie, who works with the tight ends. “Justin came back to us from wide receiver so that’s exciting. He’s been playing really well with the ones. . . . He’s a fast guy. He’s a long body. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there in the run game. He works really hard at it. With his speed and explosion he can be a threat down the field.”

Juniors John DiCaro, Nick Derocher and Matt Torrey, sophomore Brendan Hill and redshirt freshman Jack Cavallaro are also battling for playing time at tight end.

Redshirt freshman Nick Lorden is one of the young wide receivers who has been impressive this spring. Sophomores Nick Lubischer and Brandon Gallagher are also in the mix.

Follow Allen Lessels on Twitter: @UNHInsider.


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