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November 17, 2005

Massaquoi shines at WR for UGA

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ATHENS, Ga. - Mohamed Massaquoi has the talent to stand out in any group of receivers.

At Georgia, his abilities are even more obvious.

The touted freshman didn't take long to emerge as one of the Bulldogs' most effective receivers, his development pushed along by the lackluster numbers of others at the wideout positions.

"Of all our guys, Mohamed is the one who really catches the ball with his hands," coach Mark Richt said. "Rarely does he let the ball get to his body. For the most part, he goes to the ball and snatches it away from the defensive back better than any guy we have."

Massaquoi ranks third on the Bulldogs with 24 receptions, his importance growing with each game. Last week, he caught six passes for 108 yards - easily the best numbers of his young career - in a 31-30 loss to Auburn.

"He's a special guy," teammate DeMario Minter said. "Just look at the man's hands. Those are hands meant for catching the ball. They're so big. He's just a great athlete. He's really lived up to all the hype."

A son of Liberian immigrants, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Massaquoi grew up in Charlotte and became one of the greatest prep receivers in North Carolina history. He helped Independence High win 77 consecutive games and five straight state titles with some truly staggering numbers.

Massaquoi set state records for receiving yards in a career (4,851) and a season (1,834 as a senior). He did the same with touchdown catches, establishing new marks with 32 in that remarkable senior year and 76 in his career.

"We had the type of offense that threw the ball around so much," he recalled. "It forced you to learn to catch the ball."

Massaquoi was sidelined during part of the preseason with a hamstring injury, which slowed his development. But it didn't take long to realize that he was perhaps the most athletically gifted member of the receiving corps, which was forced to rebuild after losing Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson.

"If that hamstring didn't set him back, who knows where he would be," Richt said.

Who knows where Georgia would be without Massaquoi. Starting flanker Sean Bailey has been a major disappointment, making only 10 catches in eight games - four of those in a season-opening rout of Boise State - and rapidly falling out of favor with drop after drop.

Most telling, tight end Leonard Pope is Georgia's leading receiver in terms of receptions (27) and yards (400). Bryan McClendon has the most catches among the wideouts with 25, and the only other player in double figures besides Bailey is backup tight end Martrez Milner with 11 receptions.

While Richt hasn't committed to juggling the lineup, he did say it's time to start looking at other receivers. Redshirt freshman Kenneth Harris, Bailey's backup, will likely get more playing time. Junior Mario Raley and sophomores A.J. Bryant and T.J. Gartrell could work their way into the rotation.

"If a guy thinks every time he drops a ball you're going to drop him out of the lineup, it's very hard for him to gain confidence," Richt said. "I recall Leonard Pope dropping balls and struggling. If we didn't continue to work with him, he wouldn't be the player he is today.

"On the other hand, you've got to have production."

McClendon doesn't think the receivers have been as bad as everyone is making them out to be. He points to the success of quarterback D.J. Shockley, who leads the Southeastern Conference in passing efficiency.

"The receivers aren't as involved in the offense as we've been in the past, and I'll be the first to admit we've dropped some balls," McClendon said. "But I'm not going to say we haven't been pulling our weight. If you look at D.J.'s numbers, it's obvious we're doing at least something right."

Massaquoi is doing plenty of things right, though it's important to remember he's only a freshman. He misses more assignments than the older receivers, the sort of things that don't register with the casual fan but show up prominently when the coaches are viewing tape.

"He's a lot like Fred Gibson," Richt said. "Fred had a lot of (missed assignments) as a freshman, but he also had a lot of production. So we tried to get him on the field."

Expect to see a lot more of Massaquoi during the next three years.

"That guy," McClendon said, "is going to be about as good as it gets."

For more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs, check out UGASports.com.



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