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- More from Patricia Babcock McGraw
Just a sophomore, Willie Bourbon cant drive yet.
But the Stevenson quarterback knows exactly who to ask when he needs to bum a ride home from practice.
I just ask these guys, Bourbon said, pointing to three of his top four receivers. They are older, and have cars.
Bourbon jokes that the rides they give him are a thank you for all the nice passes he throws them.
And there have been a few of those this fall. Theyve totaled 2,189 yards, to be exact.
Now talk about a ride. Bourbon, and his athletic, speedy and sure-handed receivers seniors Alan Velev and Anthony Bozin, junior Matt Morrissey and sophomore Cameron Green have been taking the Stevenson offense on one heck of a wild and exciting ride all season. Through the air.
In just 10 games, theyve managed to take a program known for decades as a smash-mouth, rushing juggernaut to a high-flying, high-octane passing machine that hits defenses from all angles. All four receivers boast between 26 and 34 receptions. And they average anywhere from 10 to 23 yards per catch. Between them, they have scored 15 receiving touchdowns.
I caught up with Bourbon and his fearsome foursome as they prepared for their Class 8A second round playoff game against Glenbard North, a team that eliminated them in the quarterfinals last year, 28-0. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday in Carol Stream.
Patricia Babcock McGraw: It seems almost sacrilege to say that Stevenson is primarily a passing team. Running the ball is just what Stevenson did. For years, and years, and years. Of course, Stevenson can still run the ball effectively, but the offense has certainly become more passing-centric. How and why did this change came about?
Green: A lot of coaches are trying to model their offenses after Oregons spread offense, with the speed and fast tempo. Its the new offense to try now.
Velev: Running plays can be scouted up pretty easily. Having a spread is harder to scout and it gives you more options.
Bozin: When I was a freshman, (longtime head coach Bill) Mitz was still here and we ran the ball a lot. One game, (fullback Mark) Weisman (now a starting running back at Iowa) just kept running up the middle. It was against Lake Forest. I think he had something like 46 carries. But I think when (current Stevenson coach Bill) McNamara took over, he looked at what he had coming up and he wasnt seeing those huge, every-down running backs like Weisman. He saw a lot of fast, skilled guys and he changed the offense away from the smash-mouth type of football.
Morrissey: This offense definitely fits our personnel. We had a lot of tall, talented skill players coming up and the coaches saw that.
PBM: There definitely is a lot of height in this group. Velev is 6-foot-4 and Morrissey and Green are 6-foot-3. Height helps make a good receiver. But what else does? What makes you good receivers?
Velev: Im really competitive and I love the challenge with all the corners and defensive backs. I have good size and speed and moves.
Morrissey: I run precise routes. Ive got good hands and size and speed. I make good cuts, not rounding any of them. I worked a lot in the off-season on routes with Willie. Its all about timing and Willie knowing that Ill be there when he needs me.
Green: Its my sharp routes, too. I run hard routes and make really good cuts and then I have good acceleration.
Bozin: Im the one guy who doesnt really have the height (5-foot-9), but I can do shifty things to get in and out of gaps. I find the holes and then Im able to go with my speed.
PBM: Good size, good speed, good route running lead to one thing for wide receivers: good results. But out of all the highlight reel moments for you this season, what was your best game?
Velev (34 catches for 784 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2012): It was the Libertyville game. I had my most receptions in a game, seven. I think I helped the team out pretty well.
Bozin (28 catches for 279 yards in 2012): Last week against Warren I had 2 touchdowns and 10 receptions.
Morrissey (31 catches for 524 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2012) : Against Lyons, I had 2 touchdowns. I also play defense and I had an interception, too.
Green (26 catches for 442 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2012): Last week against Warren, I think I had my best blocking game of the season. I was lucky to also catch two passes for touchdowns.
PBM: Some people might wonder if there is enough wealth for Willie to spread around in every game, if there are too many cooks in the receiving kitchen, so to speak. But you guys see it a different way, right?
Green: Having four receivers on every play is harder to guard than just one or two. We have a lot of people to worry about. You have to worry about deep routes, short routes, and if thats not open you have to worry about Willie running the ball. That spreads teams out and it opens the run game, too. It puts teams in a tough situation.
Bourbon: Having four or five guys who can go out and make plays is great because if one guy isnt open, I know I can go right over to the next guy and I know that hes going to be there at the right time in the right spot and able to catch the ball. If you have just one or two receivers some of that stuff might not be open.
Bozin: If the defense keys on one or two of us, that leaves two of us open. Thats huge. With smash-mouth football you can kind of key in on one guy. With four guys, you cant do that. One of us is always open. We open each other up.
Morrissey: I looked at the stats the other day and all of us kind of have the same number of receptions. Its amazing how Willie spreads it around like that. It makes it tough for the defense.PBM: Clearly you guys have a chemistry on the field that allows you to play off of each other. Are you just as close off the field, too?
Velev: This summer, Willie was calling us all the time, asking us to go play catch with him and wed do that two or three times a week to work on our chemistry and timing. We hung out a lot this summer.
Green: (Laughing) A lot of the hanging out I do is when Im getting rides from some of these guys.
Morrissey: We make a point of hanging out a lot. But even if we werent all wide receivers, I think wed all be hanging out. Were all good friends. For us, its a brotherhood.