LAWRENCE — Before Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier started catching passes for Kansas in 2007, it didn't mean very much to say you were a Jayhawk wide receiver.
KU had just two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in its history, both in the 1980s, and the career touchdown reception record stood at 17. Certainly, Memorial Stadium was not an attractive place to call home for a talented receiver.
Now Briscoe and Meier, the most productive receivers in KU history by a long shot, are gone after being taken in April's NFL Draft. And there's no doubt that they left something behind for their former teammates that wasn't there in the past:
"Really big expectations, especially from the media, the fans," KU junior wide receiver Daymond Patterson said, "just to see what we're gonna do without Dezmon and Kerry, because of how good of receivers they were. You gotta be thankful to have guys like that in front of you. They've brought more notoriety and attention to the receiver position at KU."
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Entering KU coach Turner Gill's first season, the wide receivers join many other position groups as an unknown on paper. Other than senior Johnathan Wilson (81 catches, 1,074 yards and three touchdowns), the Jayhawks don't feature much experience. But Gill has already singled out the group as one of the strengths of this year's team.
"We have a solid receiving corps," Gill said. "I can say that. We feel we've got six or seven guys we feel very good about."
Wilson, largely overshadowed by Briscoe and Meier the past two seasons, has drawn the most praise from teammates and coaches and is the most likely candidate to step into a leading role.
"A great route runner," KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. "He's one of those guys that the quarterback knows where he's going every time. We call it 'indicators.' He indicates to the quarterback where he's going before he makes his break. It makes the timing so much better. I wouldn't say he's a burner, but he's a guy that's going to be very steady in our offense and have great production."
Wilson, more than any other KU receiver, has been waiting to have the new expectations for the position on his shoulders.
"I've known for a while this moment was going to come," Wilson said.
It didn't take long for Gill to realize how important Wilson would be to having success in year one. Gill said he has talked with Wilson, who has a quiet personality, often about being a leader.
"I'm really trying to win some football games and go to a bowl game," Wilson said. "Kansas needs to get back to a bowl game. Last year we let down a lot of people. That was a bad feeling for me. I went home and I was sick the whole time for my Christmas break. I don't want that feeling again."
Wilson said he has struggled with focusing on football and school responsibilities in the past. He will have plenty of chances to show his improved leadership this season surrounded by youth at his position.
KU may be young at receiver, but it doesn't appear to be lacking in talent. Sophomore Bradley McDougald (33 catches for 318 yards last season) was one of the jewels of former coach Mark Mangino's 2009 recruiting class and should start alongside Wilson on the outside. The shifty Patterson, who moved back to receiver after being moved to cornerback in 2008, will likely man the slot, giving the Jayhawks a potential big-play threat.
Other candidates for playing time are redshirt freshman Chris Omigie, redshirt freshman Christian Matthews (who moved from quarterback), redshirt freshman Erick McGriff and sophomore D.J. Beshears (who moved back to receiver from cornerback).
"We're bringing a lot of speed to the table," Beshears said. "We've got a lot of versatility. We should open up the field."
KU running back Angus Quigley said he expects more balance from the position without Briscoe and Meier. But impressive individual seasons are now there for the taking at Kansas.
"They set a lot of records," Beshears said. "All the guys around here, we looked up to them. We watched what they did, and we're just trying to carry it on."