Few expected Anthony McClung to own the second-most receptions of any wideout on this spring roster, but his fast-tracked freshman performance proves invaluable amid an inexperienced receiving corps.
Then it happened. D.J. Woods temporarily went out with an injury. McClung sprinted to the huddle. The first play call from Zach Collaros on third-and-11 from the
Who was the No. 1 target? McClung.
"I was definitely shocked," he said.
The Bearcats fan base returned the emotion after McClung jumped into the air to snatch a 25-yard reception.
He entered UC as a 157-pound freshman project expected to compete for playing time once graduation cleared positions. Suddenly, four games in, he caught four passes for 58 yards in a near upset of the Sooners.
From that point forward, a new standard took hold for a recruit originally recognized for being Dyjuan Lewis' teammate in
He caught at least four passes in each of the final four games of the year. By season's end, he finished with 22 receptions for 217 yards with two touchdowns. Those numbers came despite working his way through a turf toe injury.
"The coaches told me they would travel me (when I was recruited), but I didn't know I was going to get in because, DJ Woods, you know, he's the man," McClung said. "I would just look up to him follow his footsteps and try to do what he do."
McClung learned by more than osmosis. He learned by fire. In the process, his coaches learned to trust him.
"It did more for us because we had the confidence he could step in a big game and high pressure situation like that," receivers coach T.J. Weist said. "The moment DJ went down, he stepped right in there and we threw the ball to him. For him to make that play in that circumstance gave us the confidence to put him in more and play him without hesitation."
In the moment, many aspects of his freshman campaign overwhelmed. As McClung prepares for his sophomore season, however, it's invaluable.
"The thing you can't put a pricetag on is experience," Butch Jones said. "Anthony gained valuable game experience and made plays. He made some bigtime plays in big games. Look at his first career catch against
Such begins the second phase of McClung's unexpected rise. Questions at the receiver position leave playing time for the 2011 Bearcats for the taking.
Amazingly, McClung returns as the only wideout on the spring roster not named D.J. Woods with more than two career receptions.
"There are a lot of expectations that are placed upon his shoulders for next year," Jones said of McClung, currently running being Woods on the second team. "We need some individuals to step up."
When it comes to football, McClung will pay whatever price necessary to rise to the occasion. The game is his life. When his qualified ACT score was flagged near the end of his senior season, his commitment to UC was jeopardized. McClung was forced to start talking to junior colleges.
The stress not only wore on him mentally, but physically. He lost eight pounds stressing over the concept of seeing his dream temporarily derailed.
"I wasn't eating," he said. "I thought my life was over; I need football in my life."
Eventually, McClung scored with three points of his original ACT to green light his eligibility with the Bearcats. He arrived on campus in August, less than 24 hours after learning of his test score.
Eight months later, he's taking advantage of his first offseason on campus. His 157-pound frame now consists of a chiseled 172 pounds. Speed and quickness willed him through his freshman year, but building strength to compete against bumping linebackers in the slot demands more strength.
In the immediate future, McClung won't look like Wes Welker, but even being a slightly stronger version of Anthony McClung goes a long way toward continuing his rapid ascent up the depth chart.
"He's got a consistency in technique," Weist said. "That is critical for a receiver. We are always talking about attention to details, but it comes down to consistency with technique. He just needs to build bulk to compete in the Big East, especially at slot receiver."
The one characteristic McClung doesn't need which everyone thought he would this year would be game experience. Now, instead of being shocked when he hears his number called next time UC takes to the Paul Brown Stadium turf, he'll only be shocked if he doesn't.
"The reps, the game experience is the most invaluable thing," Weist said. "He works his routes with the quarterbacks, he understands. We talk about it and say 'Remember when you did this against