Four outstanding receivers in the Lake Conference -- Wayzata's Jeff Borchardt, Edina's Marley Allison, Hopkins' Zac Merie and Minnetonka's Malcom Moore -- can beat teams with speed, hands and even blocks.
On a sunny practice field next to Wayzata High School, wide receiver Jeff Borchardt is running his specialty, the "go" route: run 10 yards, pause, then burst at top speed downfield.
The ball is already in the air when Borchardt breaks out of his hesitation. He shifts gears, accelerating effortlessly until he's outrun the throw and has to slow noticeably to make the catch.
"When I was younger, my dad used to throw a ball over the trees in our yard and I would just go chase them down," said Borchardt, seemingly unimpressed each time he practiced the play with his 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard-dash.
But as Borchardt finished the play, defensive coaches at the other end of the field noticed. They moved their players back to keep them out of the speedster's way.
Heads are turning in Edina, Minnetonka and Hopkins as well. The Lake Conference, always fertile ground for big linemen of future D-I pedigree, is also a pass-catcher's paradise this fall. And that has colleges and recruiters taking notice.
There's Edina's Marley Allison, whose speed and leaping ability give him a penchant for the spectacular play.
Hopkins' Zac Merie, tall and rangy with suction cups for hands, has a knack for squeezing every possible yard out of a catch.
Perhaps the most complete receiver of the bunch is Minnetonka's Malcom Moore, who is sitting out the first half of the season because of a broken foot. He will be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses with his expected return in two weeks.
"All of those guys are so good," said Merie, who is also a starting safety for Hopkins and has had to cover them. "And they all have something they do really well."
'Competition with each other'
Talented receivers are not foreign to the five-team Lake. Former standouts Devin Crawford-Tufts of Edina and Andre McDonald of Hopkins are now catching passes for the Gophers.
What makes 2012 noteworthy is the number of game-breakers in the league at one time.
"It's pretty cool," said Allison, who caught six passes for 118 yards in Edina's season-opening 28-14 victory over Holy Angels. "We all have really good talents. We don't really have a rivalry, but there is a competition with each other. I know Malcom and Zac pretty well and we joke back and forth."
Physical skills aside, all four agree that hard work factors as much as talent in their past, and possibly future, success.
"You have to be willing to work when nobody's watching," Moore said. "You have to put in the time. It's about the work, like learning the routes and running sprints."
It also explains how four receivers with such diverse skill sets can each develop into a formidable weapon.
Take Merie, for instance. Lacking the speed of the other three -- "The fastest I've run is a 4.8 40," he says -- he has elevated his game by adopting a zero-tolerance policy on dropped balls.
"I've got bigger hands, so I rarely drop a ball," he said. "Even on the sidelines, playing catch, I try never to drop a ball."
It paid off in the Royals' season-opening victory over Houston (Tex.) Episcopal. Early in the second quarter, a tightly covered Merie used his reach and hands to pluck the ball away from defenders while walking a tightrope down the right sideline for a 40-yard gain.
"I was at that game," Allison said. "That was unbelieveable."
Grit goes with the glam
The less-glamorous physical task of throwing blocks to spring a teammate is no problem, either.
"I've grown to take pride in my blocking," Borchardt said. "You have to. We're graded on it."
Allison even said he has a role model when it comes to blocking: former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, who was as feared a blocker as he was a receiver.
"He had that attitude that he was going to get after it no matter what he had to do," Allison said. "Fans may not see your blocking, but the coaches do when you're watching film the next day."
Grit and grime and grappling are a part of the game all four accept, but the beautiful plays -- hauling in a bomb or jumping over a defender on a fade route -- are the moments they live for.
"When a play is called for you and you know it's coming your way and you run by the last defender," Borchardt said. "That's the best part of being a receiver."
|Seattle - LP: C. Furbush||8||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: J. Smith||10|
|Tampa Bay - LP: J. Lueke||5||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: R. Dickey||7|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson||6||FINAL|
|Baltimore - LP: P. Strop||4|
|Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto||4||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: S. Marcum||3|
|Philadelphia - LP: C. Hamels||1||FINAL|
|Miami - WP: A. Sanabia||5|
|Minnesota - LP: K. Correia||1||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||5|
|Oakland - WP: B. Colon||9||FINAL|
|Texas - LP: J. Lindblom||2|
|Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw||3||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - LP: Y. Gallardo||1|
|Boston - LP: J. Lester||4||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: D. Axelrod||6|
|Kansas City - LP: J. Guthrie||5||FINAL|
|Houston - WP: D. Keuchel||6|
|Arizona - WP: P. Corbin||5||FINAL|
|Colorado - LP: J. Garland||1|
|St. Louis||2||Top 7th Inning|
|Washington||0||Top 7th Inning|