Kevin Johns didn’t get the nod from Rivals.com as the best wide receivers coach in the Big Ten because his guys were the best at catching jump balls or at scorching their defenders on go routes.
In his four years coaching the wideouts at Northwestern, he never had the league’s tallest or fastest athletes, but Johns made the most out of a cerebral group and coached two receivers with ordinary athleticism by Big Ten standards to all-conference honors. Jeremy Ebert was a first-team pick this year and Zeke Markshausen was a second-teamer a season ago.
‘That’s what made us unique at Northwestern,” Johns said. “We paid attention to all of those little details. We thought that made us different. I think that’s what we need to do here. How are we going to separate ourselves? To me, those little things are gonna make a big difference.”
Johns’ charges have noticed that failure to do those things right will have consequences.
“You just focus on the little things so much,” senior wide receiver Damarlo Belcher said. “The little things really matter. Your alignment. … He focuses a lot on the little things. Those things really help a lot. He’s just real smart. He’s a genius. He’s teaching us a lot of things that we didn’t know last year.”
It’s a talented group of receivers Johns inherits, but it is a little bit green. Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions last year with 78 for 832 yards and four touchdowns and rising sophomore Duwyce Wilson had 32 catches for 488 yards and three scores. Terrance Turner graduated, however, and Tandon Doss left a year early for the NFL, so the rest of the wideout corps had a combined nine receptions. Johns said he’s enjoying the opportunity to mold the younger players as well as Belcher and Wilson.
“There are guys who maybe have a little taste of it but not enough that they have everything perfected,” Johns said. “So I’ve been having a blast this spring just teaching Kofi Hughes how to play wide receiver. People forget, he was a quarterback. He’s played wide receiver for eight months of his whole life. By no means is he a finished product. There are a lot of guys like that, and that to me is exciting, and that’s where I’m looking to build is building the young guys up, and that’s where our depth will come from and we’ll be able to continue this really high level of play in the pass game for years to come.”