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Vikings looking for next big wide receiver

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D.H. Conley players run drills during practice on Aug. 6, 2019.

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

At the beginning of the 2018 football season, fans of the D.H. Conley Vikings were left wondering who would replace former star and current East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers. Coach Nate Conner put his trust in then-junior Nick Hamilton, who helped lead the team to a 9-4 record and a 3-A state playoff berth.

The situation is almost identical this year, as another Vikings' star graduated and is with the Pirates.

C.J. Johnson, the 2018 Daily Reflector All-Area Offensive Player of the Year, did it all, leading Conley a year ago in rushing (39 carries, 520 yards, 14 touchdowns) and receiving (77 receptions, 1,701 yards, 23 TDs).

Following Johnson's departure, a large sum of targets became available, meaning that members of this season's DHC receiving corps will have to fight to earn their share of the looks from Hamilton.

"These guys have all been excited about the opportunity to be a part of the receiving corps," Conner said. "They are working really hard. What I'm excited about is that I think we can have a really sound corps all the way across, where last year we had a really dominant and special player. Some other guys did some good things too, but this year I'm looking for it to be very balanced."

Matthew Rostar returns after he was the Vikes' second-leading receiver when he brought in 363 yards on 25 receptions, scoring two touchdowns. Johnson accounted for 57 percent of DHC's receiving yards last season, leaving names like Rostar and fellow senior LaShaun Atchinson at the top of the depth chart to help fill in and create production in their final seasons.

"We have a lot of depth out there at some spots," Conner said. "We have worked hard to get guys out there, create some depth and help keep our guys fresh. Some guys to think of: Rostar coming back, he's been a two-year starter; LaShaun Atchinson has had a great offseason; Chance Brown has really worked hard; Charlie Dees, Khalil Harper, Deshaun Blount, those guys have really worked hard. Trey Robins has also had a really good offseason."

Conner added that his receivers will be multitalented as they have been in the past, also stepping on the field as defensive backs.

"The unique thing about these guys is they play defense," Conner said. "We don't cut them any slack, we expect that these same guys who play receiver are going to play defensive back for us too. It helps them. I think it helps them at receiver and at defensive back as well. They are going to have to turn around and play defense, but they should have good ball skills because of that."

In terms of looking for a definitive leader of the receiving group, Conner will naturally allow whoever aims to take control to do so, even if that leader changes week by week.

"It could be any of those guys that week," he said. "I think we want to be able to be in a situation where we want to take what the defense gives us, if it's one guy that week he needs to step up and take his role and do that. I think the best offenses run that way, you don't have to rely on trying to force something; you take it to where the defense gives it to you and hopefully we can take advantage of that."

Those names and more will be on the field as the explosive Conley offense looks to continue its success while the team attempts to claim the 3-A/4-A Eastern Carolina Conference title. Conley will participate in scrimmages late this week in preparation for an Aug. 23 opening game in Greenville against Elizabeth City Northeastern.

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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