In his 14 years at Central Arkansas, coach Clint Conque admits he has had multiple athletes turn in exceptional first-game performances, but true freshman Jatavious Wilson may have taken it to another level in the Bears’ season opener Thursday night at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
The 5-foot-9, 171-pound receiver scored three touchdowns, in a variety of ways, and had 215 total yards in the 58-7 victory over the Incarnate Word Cardinals in his first collegiate game.
“For a true freshman, probably one of the better (first performances),” Conque said.
Wilson, who led receivers with 105 yards, and two touchdowns, on four catches, has caught the attention of coaches, fans and fellow players since he signed with UCA in February.
“I’ve been kind of cueing you guys about Jatavious Wilson since we recruited the young man,” Conque said. “I couldn’t think of a better coming-out opportunity than tonight, and certainly, he was able to show that tonight, both on offense and with his kick return.”
In addition to his four catches, the Bastrop, La., native had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, two punt returns for 16 yards and one rush for 1 yard.
Conque, who called Wilson’s high school highlight reel one of the best he’s seen, said before the season that he planned on getting the freshman about eight touches each game.
Wilson was able to steal the show Thursday night with exactly that many, but with his productivity on those eight touches, coaches may be happily forced to find additional ways to get Wilson the ball.
“We’re going to give him what he can handle,” Conque said.
Even while turning in one of the more memorable performances ever by a UCA true freshman, it wasn’t all good for the team’s newest star, who muffed one punt return and let a would-be third touchdown reception slip through his hands.
Still, Conque, and Wilson’s teammates, left the night impressed with the freshman’s abilities.
“He’ll learn from that,” Conque said. “It wasn’t all clean, but you can obviously see a skill set there. He just seems like he’s playing at a different speed.”
Even with the muffed punt, Wilson is still in the discussion to be named the Bears’ punt returner. Multiple players received an opportunity Thursday night, but Conque said a decision is coming.
“We’ll make a decision, move forward and live with it,” he said. “I have to think (Wilson) will be in that conversation.”
It’s a question mark the Bears had entering the season with the departure of receiver Jesse Grandy, also the team’s return specialist, who exhausted his eligibility after the 2012 season. However, senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers seems to think the search for his replacement is over.
“You obviously see who is going to replace Jesse Grandy,” Smothers said, speaking of Wilson.
“You see those flashes of Jesse Grandy, but he might eventually pass what Jesse Grandy did while he was here,” Smothers said. “I’m really excited to get him the ball for the rest of the season, and see what he’s going to do.”
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)