Written out? UC Davis tight end erases doubt

Wesley Preece would have likely won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2017 if UC Davis staged a football version of the Academy Awards. As wsenior ide receiver Keelan Doss was stealing the show last season by catching 115 passes for 1,499 yards, Preece had a team-high nine touchdown receptions at tight end.

A nomination for the 2018 sequel would have been unlikely for Preece after one month. The junior went from catching at least two passes in each of 11 games last year to having just four receptions in the first four games this season. And three of those four were in the season opener Aug. 31 at San Jose State.

With his hands so idle, Preece could have raised one and asked why he is being written out of the script. Little has changed for Doss, who had 32 receptions in the first four games, so what gives with Preece? When quarterback Jake Maier calls the shots, Preece is difficult to overlook at 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds.

Tight end Wesley Preece, a Rocklin High graduate, went from catching one pass in three games to three touchdown receptions in one game.

Maier has had eyes for other receivers this season, however. Saturday’s 49-36 victory at Northern Colorado was the fourth consecutive game in which UC Davis had at least 10 players catch a pass. The Aggies did not reach double digits in 2017 until their fourth game, and that was only time they did so last season.

A growing cast makes it difficult for offensive coordinator Tim Plough to spread the wealth without a player or two settling for less. And even when Plough creates the right mix, an opponent’s defense can sack it.

“It’s not like (Preece) has diminished in our game plan,” said Paul Creighton, the tight ends coach. “It’s that teams have done things to take (Doss) and (Preece) out of the game plan. We watch a team on film and then they come out to play us and they have a different game plan because of (Doss) and (Preece).”

Whatever Northern Colorado’s strategy was, it did not work. Doss caught 11 passes  for 161 yards and a touchdown. Preece has his second career hat trick by turning three of his four receptions into touchdowns.

So much for Preece being written out and off. He leads the Aggies in touchdown receptions with four. Doss, sophomore wide receiver Jared Harrell and freshman running back Ulonzo Gilliam each have two.

It will be interesting to see what Idaho State’s defense will do to contain Doss and Preece when the Bengals visit Davis at 4 p.m. Saturday. Preece will be ready for anything and take what comes his way. Head coach Dan Hawkins has preached for the players to focus on the puzzle instead of a piece or two.

“Coach Hawk changed the culture here,” said Preece, a 2016 Rocklin High School graduate. “so it is more about the team than the individual player. If we’re winning by 30 points and I don’t get a catch, I don’t care. If you take me away or you take away (Doss), then we’ve got Jared Harrell and Khris Vaughn.”

The Aggies also have Gilliam,who might be the best back UC Davis has had in recent years. He has rushed for a team-high 334 yards and six touchdowns. Gilliam has also earned an invitation to the passing party and is second to Doss in receptions with 21. Doss now has 43.

Preece deserves some credit for Gilliam’s productivity because he has worked to become a better blocker. When Preece is not targeted by Maier, he contributes to the offense by doing the dirty work of blocking.

“Look at tight ends in the NFL and they’re all good receivers.” Creighton said. “What separates the good ones from the great ones is being an asset in the run game. That is something (Preece) has spent a lot of time working on. He focuses on what he needs to get better at 100 percent of the time and never fixates on what he’s good at. Sometimes, it’s almost to a fault. It’s like you have to tell him that he’s pretty damn good.”

  • Share/Bookmark

UC Davis quarterback hopes patience will pay off

Hunter Rodrigues may have to bide his time at UC Davis after transferring from American River College, where he passed for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 14 scores as a freshman in 2017.

Playing the waiting game is nothing new for Hunter Rodrigues. If it pays off for the quarterback at UC Davis as it did last season at American River College, the Aggies will be sitting pretty in 2020 with Rodrigues calling the signals.

Rodrigues waited in 2016 after graduating from Whitney High School in Rocklin. His statistics as a senior – 3,154 yards and 45 touchdowns passing to go with 642 yards and six touchdowns rushing – did not earn him a scholarship. He settled for going to American River and then taking a grayshirt season to avoid losing a year of eligibility.

Grayshirts can attend classes as part-time students, thus rendering them ineligible, until they go full time on scholarship. Such a scenario made sense for Rodrigues because American River was set at quarterback with Griffin Dahn.

Accepting that was much easier than going through a season as a glorified spectator on the sideline. And with nothing better to do, Rodrigues was occasionally summoned to feed the referees with an ample supply of footballs. Imagine the embarrassment of serving as a ball boy with his relatives and friends watching from the bleachers.

“That was a pretty long year,” Rodrigues lamented.

Jake Maier (15) keeps an eye on Rodrigues from the sideline during a recent practice at UC Davis.

One season at American River was enough for Dahn to receive a scholarship to Nevada. That opened the door for Rodrigues to become the starter for the Beavers in 2017. The 6-foot, 180-pound Rodrigues showed no fear or signs of rust in throwing for 2,191 yards and 23 touchdowns as well as rushing for 478 yards and 14 scores.

American River would have loved more of the same from Rodrigues in 2018, but the sophomore followed Dahn’s lead by being done after one year with the Beavers. A scholarship offer from UC Davis is to blame for his departure.

Jon Osterhout is entering his fifth season as American River’s head coach in need of a starting quarterback. Rodrigues’ return would have made his life easier – and his offense more potent –  but Osterhout will not stand in the way of an athlete he described as having “all of the intangibles you look for in a quarterback and certainly has the ‘it’ factor. Extremely athletic, quick release, high football IQ and natural ability to lead through his actions.”

That explains why UC Davis pursued Rodrigues even though it might be a year of two before he climbs the depth chart. This could turn out to be another season of standing on the sideline for Rodrigues, at least not as a ball boy.

The Aggies are set at quarterback with Jake Maier, who was the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2017 with 3,669 passing yards and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore. The transfer from Long Beach City College set school records for completions (306) and 300-yard passing games (nine) in a season. The offense is clearly his.

Rodrigues is battling sophomore Brock Johnson to be Maier’s understudy, and Johnson has an advantage in the competition. Johnson redshirted in 2017 after transferring from Georgetown, so this season will cost him a year of eligibility and leave him with two. If he is active for games, the Aggies might as well get some use out of him.

Redshirting Rodrigues would leave him with three years of eligibility. And with redshirts now allowed to play in as many as four games without losing eligibility, UC Davis gets a free look at Rodrigues. The possibility of redshirting did not stop Rodrigues from accepting the Aggies’ scholarship offer. Then again, it was the only one he got.

“I knew of Jake. He’s a great quarterback,” Rodrigues explained. “I always felt I was going to redshirt and learn from him.”

The first lesson comes Thursday at San Jose State.

  • Share/Bookmark