If 2010 was the year of the quarterback in the Frontier Conference, then offensively, 2011 might be the year of the wide receiver.
Though almost every Frontier team graduated at least one starter at wide out from a year ago, almost every roster in the league returns yet more stars at the receiver position. So if the quarterbacks around the league can get their playmakers the ball, this could be a very explosive, and big-play type of season week in and week out, and across the entire Frontier Conference.
Here’s a look at the top returning wide receivers in the Frontier for 2011.
The Montana State University-Northern Lights were one of the teams which graduated a key receiver last season. Gone from Northern is four-year starter and 2010 First Team All-Conference standout Matt Stuart. But the Lights return a pair of burners this fall.
Sophomore Brandon O’Brien and sophomore Orin Johnson both played big roles in MSU-N’s explosive offense a season ago, and both are looked at as go-to guys this coming season. Johnson caught 30 passes for almost 400 yards during his freshman campaign and was also MSU-N’s punt returner. He’s also as versatile as it gets in the Frontier Conference, as he also operates the “wildcat” formation for the Lights. Meanwhile, O’Brien made a big splash, scoring two touchdowns in his debut, Northern’s season-opening win at UM-Western a year ago. Despite battling injury much of last season, O’Brien finished the year with 19 catches for 429 yards and five touchdowns. He also finished seventh in the conference with an averages of 57 yards per game.
Northern is also developing several quality young receivers, while big things are expected from junior college transfer Kyle Johnston.
Two teams with some stellar receiving corps also reside in the Frontier. Rocky Mountain College may possess the most talented wide receiver in the league in 6-4 senior A.J. Tolbert. A first-team all-conference pick a year ago, Tolbert racked up over 800 yards on 50 catches, and is a perfect fit for RMC’s pass-happy offense. He’s also been selected as an all-american candidate in many preseason publications. And as usual, the Bears have a ton of depth at receiver. Also returning is 6-0 senior Levi Sutton, a speedster in the slot.
Eastern Oregon also has a deep receiver group, led by 6-2, 200-pound senior Jake Burroughs. Burroughs is a favorite target of senior quarterback Chris Ware, but he also has weapons around him, including 5-8 sophomore Kedrick Starr and junior Kirk Miller, who led the team in receiving yards a year ago.
And no team may have as much depth at receiver as Carroll College. Despite losing an all-american at the wide out last season, the Saints return a veteran group, led by former Butte Central star Matt Ritter. Ritter has done a little of everything for Carroll over the years, include playing quarterback, returning kicks and playing receiver. But in his senior season, Ritter will be looked upon as one of the most dangerous wide outs in the league. Also back for Carroll is 6-1 senior Lat Wipplinger, as well as possible star in the making Jared Hunt. The Saints roster also boasts former Havre High standout Billy Wagner.
UM-Western will have a mainly new group of receivers, the Bulldogs do have Colton Woods, who was among the league leaders in receptions, touchdowns and receiving yards a year ago. Junior Trent Thomas at Montana Tech is also one to watch this season.