Junior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky is having a comeback season.
Wolitarsky missed five games last season and barely played in two due to injuries, but he’s stayed healthy this season and is second on the Gophers in receptions and receiving yards.
Senior wide receiving KJ Maye and Wolitarsky have led Minnesota’s young wide receiver corps as two of the only experienced players to see playing time at the position.
“Sometimes with the way our situation is, the leadership role was thrust upon him,” offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said last week. “He had two choices: He could have either shied away from it or embrace it. Fortunately, he embraced it.”
When Maye graduates following this season, Wolitarsky will be counted on even more to lead the position group as its lone senior to see consistent playing time.
Wide receivers coach Brian Anderson said he expects Wolitarsky will be up to the challenge.
“There’s no question he’s got to be the next man up in that room to be that leader because he’s going be the one senior next year,” Anderson said. “I’m leaning on him now to get that process started.”
The Gophers have played several young wide receivers this year, and Wolitarsky has been able to influence them through his work ethic, Limegrover said.
“He is a guy that comes to practice every day and works,” Limegrover said. “He likes catching the football, likes getting the ball. He puts his work in.”
Freshman wide receiver Rashad Still said Wolitarsky works with him to make sure he’s running his routes and executing plays correctly.
“Sometimes I mix up the plays, and he’ll make sure I’m on the [same] page as him,” Still said. “He’ll teach me how to get off press [coverage] or how to make adjustments on a certain corner or a certain coverage.”
The Gophers’ passing game has found its stride in recent weeks, and Wolitarsky said he attributes that in part to some of the offseason workouts.
The workouts involved each wide receiver catching at least 100 balls a week and working on leaping into the air to try to grab high passes.
“We’re going up for balls,” Wolitarsky said. “When that ball’s in the air, it’s yours. ‘Hook or crook,’ as our coach says. If you’re going up for it, you come down with it and don’t let anyone else have it.”
The workouts have helped Wolitarsky develop, as he is now going up and catching passes he wouldn’t have earlier in his college career.
“Two or three times I said, ‘Junior Drew will make that play where freshman Drew didn’t,’” Limegrover said. “That’s exactly what’s happening now. He’s matured.”
Even with his new maturity, Wolitarsky keeps things light on the field, something Still said he appreciates.
“Sometimes it gets tense, and he’ll crack a joke or something, and he’s a good player to look up to,” Still said. “He’s strong on the field, and he’s kind-hearted. He’s just a funny guy.”