The Roundup’s end of spring rundown kicks off with a look at players from the one and true king, Southwest Conference, who are primed to pop this fall on a field near you. We call them Playmakers*, we hope by next December they’ll be household names. *This series has no affiliation with the dumpster fire ESPN series from the early 2000s.
When Kendal Briles’ offense added the ignition switch that is Marquez Stevenson, the horsepower went off the charts. The rising junior from Louisiana waited his time, sitting through nearly two full seasons of injuries, before finally getting his shot in 2018. Stevenson made the most of his debut with 75 catches for over 1,000 yards and eleven total touchdowns.
Stevenson became one of the most dangerous home run threats in college football with six plays of 50+ yards and twelve plays or 30 or more. Once the Cougar receiver got the ball in his hands, defenses went into panic mode. When you’re dealing with an athlete that can ramp up to a 4.3 40, a defender better take extreme caution, or he’ll be on the wrong side of a highlight. Stevenson will make you famous.
In 2018, Stevenson used that raw ability to run past corners and safeties and give a new definition to “cushion.” If a corner, tired of chasing Stevenson into the endzone, started to give ground and extend his cushion, D’Eriq King simple ran the quick game to the sophomore and let him beat defenders with the ball in his hands. Aside from his speed and quickness, Stevenson showed strong hands and the ability to use his body to create space in traffic.
The Bear Raid is never synonymous with technical route running, but new coach Dana Holgorsen’s route combinations and formation variance will force defenses to find Stevenson in different areas of the field. Cougar fans can look forward to seeing how much the receiver develops into a great route runner. That progression will be the difference in whether Stevenson is simply a burner or grows into a complete receiver.
If that happens, the AAC may want to discuss terms of surrender.
Here’s a quick catch and run from Stevenson against Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona squad. Due to time constraints, we can’t show you all of Stevenson’s highlights, you’ve probably got a job and responsibilities at home to tend to.
The first thing to notice is how quickly he transitions from the catch, into a ball carrying position, Stevenson his a willing, instinctual runner and he’s not afraid of contact. He’s got a strong lower frame, and if you’re going to tackle him, you’ll need to bring more than the Wildcat defenders in this instance. Off balance, completing a catch, Stevenson is strong enough and balanced enough to fight off two tackles and get to green grass.
Second, Stevenson’s intelligence and versatility make him unpredictable. Two Arizona defenders, #6 and #7 (dear God Arizona’s uniform numbers are ridiculously large), they have an angle, they try to funnel Stevenson to the sideline, but they leave themselves open to the cutback. Stevenson’s nose for the endzone takes him the rest of the way. Six Wildcats are within arm’s reach at any given point in this run, but they have no hope of catching him.
Good luck to the Cougars’ 2019 opponents trying to contain Marquez Stevenson. You’re going to need it.