Anthony McClung put together one of the most impressive freshman-sophomore seasons in UC history, but the Bearcats need an even greater junior campaign to help lift a young offense.
WEST HARRISON, Ind. - In the drought of college football offseason, Nippert Stadium sits quiet in the middle of the UC campus. The beacon of activity during Saturdays in the Fall stands dormant.
Periodically, however, in the empty hours of the night when many of the students surrounding the stadium lie asleep, the soft sound of footsteps and a football slapping against receiver gloves echo off the bleachers. The lights are off. Only the soft cascade of the moon shines through the surrounding buildings.
In the faint midnight light, the future of the Cincinnati Bearcats offense could be found. There were roommates Munchie Legaux and Anthony McClung. Running routes. In the dark. At midnight.
"I can see him and the ball," McClung said. "I don't know what he is seeing, but as far as running my routes he knows where I am at he puts it on the spot."
McClung would gladly flip the stadium lights, but when dorm boredom creates an impromptu route-tree session in early hours of the morning, finding authority to use enough wattage to power a small village doesn't come easy.
So, when incumbent QB Legaux and the school's top receiver McClung feel the itch to work on their craft once every few weeks, they learn how to do so in the dark.
"We are just messing around, but we are actually getting work in," McClung said. "Just sitting around watching TV and say, 'You want to go run routes?'"
All a part of the journey to the next level for the closest thing to a proven connection on the young Bearcats offense. McClung understands he's being counted on to become a premier receiver in the Big East as he enters his junior season. After all, he led the Bearcats in receptions (49), receiving yards (683) and receiving touchdowns last year (six).
When McClung first arrived on campus three years ago, few would have predicted these numbers. He wasn't a wildly recruited prospect. In fact, he wasn't even the highest rated receiver attending UC on his own high school team. Four-star WR DyJuan Lewis owned that label.
At 6-foot with an undersized frame he didn't jump off the highlight video. Yet, once he arrived at UC he did pop off video on the practice field. Suddenly, two years later he's put together one of the best freshman-sophomore year combinations in school history. He caught 71 passes in two years.
If he were only to repeat his production last season during his junior and senior years, he would finish with the fourth-most receptions in Bearcats history (projected: 169). Only Mardy Gilyard, LaDaris Vann an Dominick Goodman - all with 204 receptions - would own more.
Not bad for the other guy from Indianapolis Pike.
"Yeah, I'm definitely (surprised) because my first year here I felt we had an NFL receiving corps," he said. "They threw me in the fire it just hasn't stopped then."
In the eyes of the Bearcats coaching staff, it can't stop now. A team short on proven play-makers needs more from McClung.
"He's smooth," wide receivers coach T.J. Weist said. "He's got a feel for running routes; he's got a feel for timing, breaking on the ball, getting in and out of breaks. He's been very natural at that. Now he's got to take it to the next level. He's got to get faster so we can use him in different situations."
In order to reach the next level he needs a quarterback to climb alongside him. That's what leads us back to the dark nights at Nippert Stadium and two friends thrilled to be tied to each other's success. In the win that clinched a share of the Big East title last year, Legaux hooked up with McClung eight times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. It produced the shining moment in the young careers of both and UC faithful hope a glimpse at the future.
During the first two weeks of training camp at Higher Ground McClung noticed the change in his quarterback. Considering McClug stays in contact with Legaux nearly every day of the year, he should know.
"Munchie is hungry," McClung said. "He really wants to be the best quarterback in the Big East if not the nation. His whole body language, his demeanor. It's just overall confidence. When he first came in we had to make the plays for him. Now he's making plays for us, throwing us open. We are running good routes, catching the ball, making plays."
McClung continue maneuvering out of the slot position and expect Legaux to eye No. 6 when he must have the critical yards. Whether a post or out route, three- or five-step drop, lights on or in the dark, these two will know exactly what to expect.
"We can call any play we want," Weist said, "but if it doesn't come down to that quarterback trusting that wide receiver and knowing his body language in a pressure situation, it doesn't matter."