Coming into the 2015 season, Ashland University's football team had a returning wide receiver and tight end group which caught just 11 passes from 2014.
The question was – "Who will catch the ball from quarterback Travis Tarnowski?"
The answer is – "It never was a concern."
Tarnowski, a sophomore, has thrown for 2,845 yards and 27 touchdowns in 10 regular-season games, completing 63.3 percent of his passes. His favorite receiver is the open receiver – while sophomore tight end Adam Shaheen leads all NCAA tight ends at all levels with 62 catches, seven different players have caught at least 14 passes this fall, most of any team in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"We have so many concepts and so many formations and routes that every single guy that is out there is going to have to catch that pass just as well as the other guy," Tarnowski said. "Every single route that they run, we have a progression, we have reads. It may not be a pass that we throw in a lot in practice…but in the game, if it's there, it's there.
"Every person has the ability and option to catch the ball on every single play."
Shaheen leads the Eagles in receiving, and is one of the top tight ends in the country with 10 touchdown grabs. His versatility to line up almost anywhere in a formation has been a key for AU's high-powered offense, which ranks fifth in Division II in total yards per game at 495.7 and 17th in the country in scoring offense at 40.7 points per contest.
"Every time I read one of those articles after the game, it says he's thrown to 10 different receivers. You didn't realize he's thrown it to that many people," Shaheen said of Tarnowski. "He's been sharing the ball very well with us. Sometimes, I'm running and I won't think I'm open, and then the ball's there and I make a play on it. He's good at getting the ball right where it needs to be."
The conventional wisdom during 2015 has been that Shaheen's production and versatility has opened up the passing game for the wide receivers. He sees it the other way.
"Any time, between the receivers, myself and Vance…it helps everybody else out when the defense can't just focus on one aspect of the offense," Shaheen said.
Junior wide receiver Jamie Hence and sophomore wideout Stewart Turner are two players who have stepped up in new roles this season. Hence leads all AU wideouts in catches (32), while Turner averages 16.6 yards on his 22 grabs.
"I'm just glad to have the opportunity play for this team," Hence said, "because I know we worked our butts off in the offseason to get to where we're at. And, to be honest, our receiving corps is strong. At the beginning of the year, not a lot of people thought we would get the job done. It's hitting on all cylinders now, and we're just trying to go out and perform our best."
Added Turner, "Transferring from Ball State and getting the opportunity to play college football again has been a tremendous experience. For me, being young, I was going back to how I prepared in high school, and just going out there and doing my job on the field."
In addition to Hence and Turner, the "Baby Eagles" receiving corps has been supplemented with the likes of sophomore Terrance Burt (20 catches, 373 yards, three touchdowns), redshirt freshman Matthew Wilcox (18 catches, 486 yards, four TDs) and sophomore Maxwell Shawver (14 catches, 129 yards, one touchdown).
Of Wilcox's 18 receptions, seven have gone for at least 39 yards. The average length of his four TD grabs has been 50.3 yards. Wilcox falls two receptions short of the minimum number of catches required to lead all of Division II in yards per reception at 27.0.