Sophomore WR Alex Chisum fell victim to his own freshman year success this season, but a competition with Damon Julian re-energized one of the Bearcats most potent offensive weapons.
CINCINNATI -- During the final minutes against Virginia Tech few were more excited when Damon Julian slid to haul in the game-winning touchdown than Alex Chisum.
The sophomore competes with Julian for playing time every day at practice. Those long days forged a solid friendship. Seeing a friend enjoy a shining moment in his career while delivering a win for the team doesn't get much better.
For Chisum, though, as the drive unfolded and in the moments after, he couldn't deny an eye-opening reality.
That could have been him. Perhaps, that should have been him.
Chisum broke onto the scene as a freshman with a point to prove last season and delivered one of the year's great moments when he elevated above a South Florida defender to deliver a game-changing touchdown in Tampa. The same way he snagged that Zach Collaros pass, he seized the open spot as a starting receiver by the end of the year.
He returned his sophomore year pegged as the starter. Only, four games in, he wasn't. Julian bullied him out of playing time.
"Coming in this sophomore year I kind of knew I was going to be in the starting position and kind of got a little complacent," said Chisum, who caught one pass through the first four games. "I kind of thought, 'OK, I did what I came to do,' and the hunger kind of went away."
Such can be the case with 19- and 20-year-olds. Complacency, overconfidence and distraction slips in and out more regularly than friends in the dorm. More importantly, for Butch Jones and the Bearcats, Legaux to Julian snapped him out of it.
The battle for playing time has become a daily competition in practice. Best man plays Saturday. Suddenly, the hungry, opportunistic Chisum who drew comparisons to Armon Binns last season returned. That became evident when Chisum rose up for an acrobatic 25-yard reception down the sideline. He attacked the ball with a purpose. He attacked the ball like his job depended on it because, in his mind, it did.
"I had to take advantage of my opportunity," Chisum said. "That is what I did."
Few could be happier to see the effort than Jones. He's pushed buttons with Chisum this season hoping to energize one of his most physically gifted wideouts.
"We've challenged Alex because we haven't seen the sense of urgency from him that he had last year," Jones said. "We want him to come out and compete in practice as though he has been relegated to second string and have a hunger, and I'm starting to see that now. I know this about Alex Chisum, he is a very high character individual, two of the greatest parents I have ever been associated with, so I know he is going to get it going. I thought he took a step in the right direction last week ... I'm encouraged by what I see and I think you are going to see him step up and even take on a larger role on our offense."
His skill set offers a unique security blanket for Legaux. With a wide catching radius due to his lanky 6-foot-3 frame, he reaches the outer fringes of the target zone. For someone like Legaux who has occasionally struggled with accuracy down the field, the impact can be immeasurable.
Thus far this season, Legaux connected on only seven passes longer than 30 yards. The two longest of those, a 79-yarder to Travis Kelce against Fordham and 76-yarder to Ralph David Abernathy against Virginia Tech, were results of breaking shorter passes for long gains.
Finding a consistent deep threat like Chisum would change the dynamics of what the Bearcats offense can accomplish.
"He got over the freshman slump," Legaux said with a laugh. "Everybody said he was in the freshman slump. But he's stepped up. I guess Damon kind of pushed him. (Chisum) is a bigger body guy, he can go up and grab the big balls. He's more of a vertical threat for us."
He will continue to be, if he can beat out Julian this week in practice. That's proving no easy task. At least now, Chisum acknowledges he's up to it. Though the first half of the season didn't jump off to the start he hoped for, there's still at least seven opportunities to prove he belongs on the field for the game-winning drive this time.
"That game right there kind of gave me a little sense of urgency to myself," Chisum said. "I realized somebody else is coming for my spot. There's a lot of football left to play and I look forward to getting better as the season goes on."
Send any questions, comments or criticisms to Paul Dehner Jr. via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit him up on Twitter at @pauldehnerjr.