In his first season as receivers coach at the University of Toledo, Mike Bellamy has one goal.
“It’s my job not to mess this thing up,” Bellamy said. “That’s what I feel my responsibility is right now. We had a first-team, a second-team, and a third-team all-conference receiver last season. You don’t have that just anywhere and so again my responsibility is not to mess that up. I make it a joke all the time, but I know that is my responsibility and I have to hold myself accountable to that.”
Bellamy, who comes to Toledo from Mississippi State where he was a quality control coach/analyst, inherits a talented and deep group of receivers that put up big numbers last season catching passes from quarterback Logan Woodside.
Led by returning starters Cody Thompson and Jon’Vea Johnson, Bellamy said it didn’t take him long to see what a talented group he will be coaching.
“You look at the roster and you see the numbers these guys put up,” Bellamy said. “Then when I had the opportunity to watch film, you see the ability they have. I tell these guys that from top to bottom this is probably the best group of receivers I’ve had over the past five years, and that is including at Mississippi State and Illinois. A lot of times there are programs where you have four or five guys. We’re comfortable right now with seven to nine here.”
Thompson, a first-team All-MAC selection last season, is the returning star in the group. The senior from Huron High School is coming off a junior season in which he set the single-season receiving yards record with 1,269 yards on 64 catches with 11 touchdowns.
Johnson, a second-team All-MAC performer last year, stepped into a big role last season as a sophomore and produced at a high level, catching 40 passes for 773 yards and 10 touchdowns.
So far this spring, Bellamy has been impressed by the attitude and the work ethic of the group.
“When I talked to coach [Jason] Candle, I never talked to him about Cody Thompson, I never talked to him about Jon’Vea and the expectations that we have,” Bellamy said. “For me, it’s a clean slate and everybody starts at the same. Cody works just as hard as if he was a true freshman trying to earn a roster spot. That’s the thing I appreciate. Jon’Vea is sitting there teaching the younger guys what to do. Then you have the younger guys who are hungry and wanting to play. It’s a blue-collar attitude they have. They all work. Nobody thinks they are better than everyone else. You would never know Cody is who he is. You would never know Jon’Vea has had the career he has so far. To me it’s a pleasure.”
Perhaps the X-factor at receiver this season will be sophomore Diontae Johnson, who missed all of last season with a leg injury.
“Diontae is special,” Thompson said. “He’s a great guy and he’s a great athlete and he’s going to be able to make plays for us this year. He just brings another aspect to our game. He’s really versatile. He can play almost any position on the field out wide. He’s going to be a special player this year.”
Bellamy said he expects big things from sophomores Desmond Phillips and Danzel McKinley-Lewis, who will fill in at the slot after Corey Jones, a third-team All-MAC punt returner last season, graduated.
“You can’t tell that either of those guys are not veterans or fourth or fifth-year seniors,” Bellamy said of Phillips and McKinley-Lewis. “They both understand the offense. They are not running around like they don’t know what they are doing. They are catching the ball well.”
Bellamy, a second-team All-American receiver in 1989 at Illinois, was a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1990 NFL draft. He played five years in the NFL, including stints with the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, and Oakland Raiders. Based on his experience and accomplishments, Thompson said Bellamy demands a level of respect.
“He knows what it takes,” Thompson said. “He’s played at the highest level where we all want to get to. It really brings some credibility. He knows what to do. He was a second-round draft pick, so you listen to him when he speaks.”
Bellamy has had a quick turnaround from when he was hired to spring practices, which started early this season. Bellamy takes over for Derek Sage after Sage left Toledo for Washington State.
“He’s been great so far,” Thompson said. “Obviously, it’s hard coming in in his spot and then he gets here and a week later we start spring ball. It’s kind of like juggling everything, but he’s done a great job of coming in and settling down. We’ve already learned a lot from him. He’s really not skipping a beat since Sage left. A lot of the receivers like him. He’s really knows what he’s doing. He’s been around a lot of good teams and good programs and coached a lot of good guys.”
Bellamy can hardly contain his enthusiasm for this group of receivers he is inheriting.
“I’m excited about it,” Bellamy said. “I’ve called all my friends and all my coaches I have worked with and I brag about this and say watch the numbers we are going to put up. The recruits know it, the other coaches know it, I just don’t talk to the opponents that much about it.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.