Humphrey fulfilling his duty Morgan WR makes up for lost time after Army stint

November 16, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

Can anything keep Jesse Humphrey down?

Four years in the Army, during which he gave up the sport he cherishes, did not hold Humphrey back on the football field. After his discharge, he immediately began making up for lost time at Montgomery Junior College.

Two years in that program led Humphrey to Morgan State, where two losing seasons -- the Bears have gone 4-17 during that stretch -- have not curtailed Humphrey's persistent smile and upbeat chatter.

"No one likes to lose weekend after weekend," Humphrey said. "But I love playing the game so much. The only thing that could bring me down is if I couldn't play anymore."

Opposing cornerbacks also have had little luck bringing down the Bears' top receiver.

Heading into Saturday's season finale against Towson State, Morgan State (2-8) is struggling with a six-game losing streak and a defense that is setting school records for futility.

Their run-and-shoot offense has been a different story. The Bears have averaged 30.3 points and 404 yards a game. And a good portion of their highlight films has consisted of Humphrey's precise patterns, leaping ability and sure hands.

Before Humphrey arrived at Morgan State last year, no one had caught 1,000 yards' worth of passes in a season. He should make it two 1,000-yard seasons in a row this weekend.

Humphrey leads the team with 52 receptions for 972 yards and nine touchdowns. He leads the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference touchdown receptions, and is second in catches and yardage. Ranked fifth among Division I-AA receivers with 97 yards per game, he appears to be a shoo-in for his second first-team All-MEAC award.

"He [Humphrey] has tools that you can't coach, like his work ethic and his concentration while catching the football," Bears coach Ricky Diggs said. "He has the intellect to read coverages and make adjustments. And if the ball is there, Jesse is going to catch it. He's a complete receiver."

If anything detracts from the Humphrey package, it's his lack of breakaway speed. He has been timed in a so-so 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard --. But the NFL scouts still have been drawn to this gifted senior because of everything else on his resume.

First of all, he's 26. His all-around game -- good at blocking, adept at catching passes over the middle, beating man-to-man coverage and finding seams in zone defenses -- reflects the maturity that comes with military service and four years of working with the army drill team. Humphrey's assignments took him to places like Puerto Rico and Australia.

Then there's his size. At 6 feet 3, 190 pounds, with a vertical leap of 35 inches and the ability to dunk a basketball easily, Humphrey has the makeup of a professional receiver.

"I would like to have a shot at the next level. That's been my goal all along, even while I was away from the game for four years," said Humphrey, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I've got to work on my speed after the season. With my speed, I'll be labeled a 'possession receiver,' and the NFL is so speed-conscious now," he said. "They go for the big-play guys. If you can't outrun that corner[back], you can't make those big plays. But I'm 6-3, and if that corner is shorter than me, throw it up there, and it's mine."

Orlando Persell, the Bears quarterback the past two years, has grown accustomed to watching Humphrey beat defenders.

"When I throw the ball to him, I feel as though it's going to be caught every time," Persell said. "He makes me look good sometimes. It's God-given ability, and I'm thankful that he's using it with me."

The Bears are glad Humphrey accepted a two-year scholarship last year. At the time, Diggs' depth chart had been established, and Humphrey started the season running plays in from the sideline with then-sophomore Bernard Barnes. But after starting wideout Dante Carter was injured early in the season, Humphrey received more playing time.

Humphrey thrived instantly in the Bears' run-and-shoot, in which four wideouts are employed, spreading the field to the huge advantage of the receivers. He feasted on the man-to-man coverage he saw. By season's end, Humphrey had caught 55 passes for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns.

This year, Humphrey got off to what he calls a slow start, catching four passes in Morgan State's first two games. Never mind that three of them went for scores.

"There were a lot of scouts here, and I was trying too hard to impress them instead of just playing football," Humphrey said. "The coaches and the guys settled me down."

From there, Humphrey kicked into high gear. In each of the next five games, he caught at least one touchdown pass and piled up at least 100 yards in receptions. The highlight of his season has been a nine-catch, 206-yard effort in a 65-42 loss to Delaware State.

Now, with Morgan State trying to avoid its second straight 2-9 season, Humphrey has his sights trained on leaving the Bears on a high note.

"When I went to Montgomery, I had this attitude that I knew everything about playing receiver. The coaches opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn't know," he said.

"At Morgan, I've learned a lot more about finding soft spots in defenses. I believe I'm a hundred percent better than when I started. I just want one more chance to play."

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