For 2 years, UNC large receiver Josh Downs has benefitted from veteran management and constant quarterback play, molding him right into a breakout star for the North Carolina soccer group.
However when the junior cross catcher strains up for North Carolina within the group’s season opener on Saturday, he can be getting into a world of uncertainty. Not solely will he have a brand new quarterback below middle in redshirt first-year Drake Maye, however Downs will even be surrounded by a gaggle of younger and comparatively unknown large receivers.
Senior Antoine Inexperienced will spend the subsequent six to 10 weeks on the sideline after struggling a preseason collarbone harm, leaving Downs to serve in a task unfamiliar to him — probably the most skilled chief within the receivers’ room.
In accordance with Downs, although, nothing is altering in any respect.
“I do not really feel a lot strain,” Downs stated of his position on the group. “I simply go on the market and make performs with the blokes.”
Regardless of breaking out final 12 months, Downs’ mindset has remained the identical. It was his uncanny work ethic that first propelled Downs to stardom, and he’s utilizing related qualities to steer by instance this fall.
“He’s an absolute warrior between the whistles,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo stated. “If something we’ve got to restrain him a bit. He’s most likely extra in peril of overtraining or overdoing it through the week.”
When Downs first arrived in Chapel Hill in 2020, the first-year large receiver had a well-constructed assist system round him.
Becoming a member of a large receiver room that included the likes of future professionals Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown — and getting thrown to by rising star quarterback Sam Howell — the previous four-star prospect from Suwanee, Ga., appeared to have his success arrange for him — trying towards these veteran gamers as examples of the way to carry himself on the faculty degree.
“It was a chunk of knowledge that I actually wanted coming into school,” Downs stated.
Nonetheless, the depth of receiving expertise on the North Carolina soccer group’s roster additionally saved Downs from seeing many snaps in his first 12 months. Over the 9 common season video games that he appeared in, Downs tallied three receptions and one lone landing.
“We didn’t play him sufficient as a freshman,” head coach Mack Brown stated. “He had Dazz Newsome in entrance of him, however we did a poor job as a workers as a result of Dazz was so good and we have been shut in each recreation, we did not have alternatives.”
That each one modified when UNC was chosen to play within the Orange Bowl in opposition to Texas A&M. Dyami Brown, trying forward towards the upcoming NFL Draft, opted out of the sport to keep away from any danger of harm. Instantly, Downs discovered himself beginning in considered one of UNC’s most high-profile video games in current reminiscence.
He didn’t let the chance go to waste. Downs tallied 91 yards and two touchdowns on 4 receptions, highlighted by a 75-yard catch that he took to the top zone. On nationwide tv, Downs had introduced to the world that he had arrived.
Headed into the 2021 season, Downs was primed for a breakout marketing campaign because the group’s newly minted first-option large receiver. It was a little bit of an ungainly place for Downs, who knew he was one of the proficient gamers on the group, however didn’t really feel like one of many locker room veterans he beforehand realized from.
“I wasn’t as a lot of a vocal chief and position mannequin simply because I used to be younger and I used to be simply making an attempt to determine issues out,” Downs stated. “As a result of I used to be nonetheless getting the grasp of it myself.”
With Newsome and Brown gone, Downs regarded to his quarterback as a mentor, stating that Howell’s strategy to the sport ran by way of him and the remainder of the Tar Heels. In consequence, the 2 constructed a particular bond on the sphere, main to every of them breaking a number of college information in 2021.
Howell completed his profession as UNC’s all-time passing landing and yardage chief, whereas Downs grew to become the primary UNC participant to have over 100 receptions in a season whereas racking up a program-best 1,335 yards.
All through that season, Downs grew into the skilled veteran that youthful large receivers turned to. Amongst them was redshirt first-year Gavin Blackwell, who had identified Downs since earlier than the 2 have been at UNC.
“He is most likely one of many hardest working gamers not even within the receiver room, however most likely on the group,” Blackwell stated. “And that is undoubtedly contagious.”
On Saturday, Blackwell will line up subsequent to Downs as considered one of three beginning large receivers in opposition to Florida A&M. The previous four-star prospect from Indian Path, NC. has extraordinarily restricted recreation expertise, however so did Downs as soon as upon a time.
Downs acknowledges that inexperience within the receivers’ room, however says that it doesn’t trouble him. Fairly, he has embraced the younger wideouts this preseason, remembering how he remodeled from the unknown into a school soccer celebrity.
Though the Tar Heels’ pass-heavy offense would possibly characteristic loads of new faces this season, Downs’ objective stays the identical.
He’s right here to catch passes and win soccer video games, no matter who’s sharing the sphere with him.
“This 12 months, we undoubtedly bought massive issues in retailer for Josh,” Blackwell stated. “Final 12 months was only a wake-up.”
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