NEW YORK—This is the fourth part of a preseason series previewing each of the 2017 Columbia Football position groups. For Sunday’s position group preview, we take a look at Columbia’s wide receivers.

 

At wide receiver, Columbia’s 13-player position group keeps getting better and deeper by the day. Wide receivers coach Todd Gilcrist will have a variety of players to use when the Lions open their season against Wagner on Sept. 16.

 

Despite losing seniors Scooter Hollis (36 catches, 363 yards), Cameron Dunn (32 catches, 332 yards, 2 TDs) and Toure Douglas (seven receptions, 68 yards) to graduation, Columbia returns its two most productive and most dangerous wide receivers from last year in sophomores Josh Wainwright and Ronald Smith II. In nine games, Wainwright led the team in receptions (42), receiving yards (515) and touchdown receptions (5) in 2016. He also caught a touchdown pass in each of Columbia’s last three games and also finished second on the squad in all-purpose yardage with 800. He finished fifth in the Ivy League in both receptions per game and receiving yards per game and seventh in the league in all-purpose yards per game. In only five games and two starts, Smith led Columbia in yards per reception (16.3) and receiving yards per game (68.4) while finishing with 21 catches for 342 yards and four touchdowns. His most outstanding performance came in an 11-catch, 195-yard outing vs. Cornell last year. The duo enters the upcoming campaign as a bit of an unknown league-wide as most of their key performances occurred during the back end of the 2016 season.

 

The surprise of Columbia’s preseason has been junior Kyle Castner, who made a position switch from quarterback to wide receiver last spring. With his rapid development, Castner will see extensive action at receiver.

 

Kyle Castner’s transition has been unbelievable,” Gilcrist said. “It’s a situation where he never played the position before. He had a spring where he showed some flashes of some skills, worked on it this summer and came back here and positioned himself as one of the top receivers. I think Kyle’s development adds more depth, but it also raised the bar for the group. It was something the rest of the guys lived up to. With the group being as deep as it is, with Josh Wainwright, Ronald Smith, Christian Everett, now Kyle, Tre Gabriel, Kaleb Pitts, Brandon Krcilek, guys like that and with the freshmen coming in, we’ve got a deep and talented group.”

 

In addition, sophomore Christian Everett (eight catches, 93 yards) showed flashes last year and juniors Tre Gabriel (one catch) and Brandon Krcilek (two catches) both saw extensive playing time in 2016. Also vying for playing time are sophomores Kaleb Pitts, Ian VanDenBerg and Christian Boujaoude. Gilcrist has also been pleased with his four freshman receivers: Darion Achohido, Emerson Kabus, Myles Davis and Carson Griffis.

 

“It’s been good to see the growth of Kaleb Pitts,” Gilcrist said. “He was a guy who came in and we knew he needed strength development. He added that strength, he has big play potential and he’s been making some big plays. Getting Christian back is huge. His catch radius is pretty ridiculous. And BK as well, Brandon Krcilek is another guy who’s a bit unproven, but he’s done a great job in practice and now he’s got to do it on game day. Adding the four freshmen into the mix is great as well. With Emerson Kabus, Darion Acohido, Myles Davis and Carson Griffis. They’ve all got a lot of talent and it’s going to be about developing that talent.”

 

Overall, Gilchrist says that the group has grown and improved tremendously since the conclusion of the 2016 season.

 

“I think they’re all more comfortable now,” Gilcrist said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember that they’re still a young group. Most of them came in as freshmen last year and they were thrown into the fire real fast. They had to grow up quickly. They took ownership of that in the spring and came back strong, they worked hard all summer and now they feel like they’re alpha lions on the team. They know that they have to bring the energy and be the most consistent group out here. They’ve accomplished that.”

 

PRACTICE 15 NEWS & NOTES

 

Columbia will practice this afternoon from 3-5:30 p.m., Columbia will complete practice No. 14. Columbia opens its 2017 season on Saturday, Sept. 16 against Wagner at Robert K. Kraft Field. All practices are open to the public. Click here for a complete schedule of Columbia’s preseason practices.

 

National Football League scouts for the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens have visited practice over the last few days.