- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taking a running back or quarterback and converting him into a talented wide receiver isn't completely new for Washington State coach Mike Leach.
Take Michael Crabtree for example. He had played quarterback in high school. Or Eric Morris. He played wide receiver for Leach at Texas Tech but was also a high school quarterback. Or Edward Britton. He was another Texas Tech wide receiver, but had only played running back up until he got to the Division-I level.
So the fact that Washington State wide receiver Vince Mayle -- who has just two years under his belt at the position -- is having an incredible spring comes as no surprise to the Cougars’ coaching staff.
“We knew he was an explosive, talented young man when we brought him in here,” outside wide receiver coach Dennis Simmons said. “We knew he was a kid who had a will to want to get better. I like where he is, but I’ll be the first to tell you he’s not done yet.”
Coming out of Inderkum High School in Sacramento, Calif., Mayle was a running back in a Wing-T offense. Even then, he didn’t dive much into the offense as a whole, relying on his athleticism to do the work instead of a football IQ or knowledge of the defense.
Mayle was so athletic that he spent his first season of eligibility as a basketball player at Shasta Community College in Redding, Calif. He went on to play football for Sierra College (Rocklin, Calif.), where he took his initial snaps as a receiver.
That season Mayle was named an All-American by the California Community College Association and was the All-California MVP -- after one season as a wide receiver. Mayle accounted for 16 touchdowns and 984 yards on 61 catches. Those numbers caught the eyes of a few programs including Arizona State, West Virginia and Houston.
But Mayle knew he wanted to play somewhere that would have a huge emphasis on getting receivers involved, and where better than a Mike Leach Air Raid offense? The Cougars were interested in him -- he was exactly what they wanted: a big, physical, explosive receiver. They also loved how Mayle attacked the ball in the air. Simmons said he hadn’t seen that kind of attack in the air since Crabtree at Texas Tech.
It was incredible praise for a player who had only played a handful of games at the position. But when Mayle got to Pullman he learned that he wouldn’t be able to rely as heavily on his athleticism. In the Pac-12, he found, players and teams were just as athletic, if not more. He’d need to employ other parts of his game. But those parts he had to learn.
So after a few games of rarely touching the ball, he began to take practices more seriously, studied more film and had even more conversations with the coaches and other players.
“I think we all knew that as a coach staff coming in -- it was going to take him a minute to adjust,” Simmons said. “Some of the things we have from a technical standpoint … it’s not natural at times, it’s not comfortable at times.”
He had roomed with Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday through fall camp so he thought maybe everything would click between the two sooner rather than later, but the learning curve just took a little bit longer that Mayle would’ve liked.
“He had to learn how I ran my routes and learn the speed that I ran at, things like that,” Mayle said. “It just took a little while to get our chemistry going.”
Through the first five games Mayle averaged 1.4 catches per game and 14 yards. Through the final eight games of the season those statistics jumped to 4.4 receptions and 54.9 yards per game. He finished the season tied with Gabe Marks and Dominique Williams with a team-leading seven touchdown catches.
Over the winter, Halliday threw to Mayle whenever possible. And that offseason allowed for Mayle to explode this spring.
Simmons said that Mayle is getting close to becoming Halliday’s safety blanket and that it’s evident how much time the two spent together in the offseason. Because of that time, Mayle has gone from being a later receiving option to a guy who has become one of the most consistent receivers for Halliday downfield.
“He has been very explosive this spring,” Simmons said. “He’s a guy that wants to be good. A lot of people say that but you meet very few young men who are willing to put in the work to do that. … When you’ve got a guy like that with his God-given ability, you’ve got the potential for some good things to happen.”