BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said Tuesday that Josh Stanford has established himself this spring as the Hokies' top pass-catcher. Stanford nearly recoiled when informed.
During the same interview session, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said that after two breakout games last season, opponents shaded coverage toward Stanford, causing his production to wane. Stanford politely disagreed.
A redshirt sophomore and aspiring musician, Stanford is among Tech's most promising, humble and important players entering Saturday's spring game and the 2014 season. He has, for lack of better description, the "it factor," the drive, talent and presence to be a long-term program leader.
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"Josh has had a heck of a spring," Moorehead said. "He's established himself in my mind as the best receiver in our corps."
"Don't buy that for a second!" Stanford countered, describing how Moorehead tears apart his technique when reviewing tape. "Are you kidding me?"
Moorehead wasn't kidding. He said Stanford "made a great catch today in the back of the end zone on a corner route. Really the same catch he didn't make Saturday. Challenged him to make that catch, and he goes out and he makes it, and that's what great receivers do. They step up to the challenge. They make plays."
Stanford said that the diving catch was more the product of Mark Leal's well-thrown pass.
"When he puts the ball on us, we have to make the play," Stanford added, "whether the ball is perfect or not. That's what the great receivers do. … If I want to be a great receiver, I have to do those things."
Stanford wasn't great last season as a freshman, but his 40 catches ranked third on the team behind fellow returnees Willie Byrn (51) and Demitri Knowles (45). Stanford averaged a team-best 16 yards per catch and has the group's best overall package of hands, speed and instincts.
Together, the trio should be a security blanket for Tech's new starting quarterback, be it Leal, Brenden Motley, Andrew Ford, Chris Durkin or Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. And if Stanford has progressed as far as Moorehead believes, and if there's a serviceable arm on the roster, then Stanford should have more stretches like last season's games versus Boston College and Miami.
In back-to-back road tests, Stanford caught a combined 13 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown. But he had only six receptions for 78 yards in subsequent outings against Maryland, Virginia and UCLA.
"Whenever you have (almost) 300 yards in two games, people are going to start keying and doubling," Loeffler said, "and that's why the other players have to produce. That's why being able to spread the ball around is crucial, so they can't keep keying on that one guy."
Again, Stanford wasn't buying what a coach was selling.
"Defenses didn't play me any differently," he said. "I don't know if I've earned that respect from defenses yet. I'm still working toward that."
Stanford attributed his inconsistent production to his own shortcomings, and those of the offense. He and Moorehead have sensed similar issues this spring.
"Coach Loeffler comes in here," Stanford said, "and he sells us on being able to execute and being able to perform and do big things. And when you … see the little things that are why we're not executing the way we should, that's, like, unacceptable."
"We've got to make tough plays," Moorehead said. "If you don't make the tough ones, at the end of the day, you're not a very good wide receiver in my mind. Anybody can go out there and make the catches they're supposed to make. We've got to start making the plays we're not supposed to make, and until we do that, we're going to be an average group. …
"And right now, that's kind of the biggest disappointment at the end of the spring. We've only got a couple of guys … that are making the extraordinary plays. We need to get more guys doing that."
Capable of playing split end, flanker or the slot, Stanford has battled a cranky hamstring this spring but expects to play Saturday. He caught three passes for 86 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, in last year's spring game, an event he considers a "showcase" for the players and an opportunity to give fans hope until the season begins in late August.
With spring ball concluding, Stanford will have more time for his second passion: music. He and former teammate Antone Exum recorded three songs in December and plan to release them via social media.
"I'm going to let him get drafted, let his following get bigger, and then we'll put the songs out," Stanford said. "It's all about marketing."
Seems Stanford is as sharp a businessman as football player.