Since the Atlantic Coast Conference was founded in 1953 — starting with eight teams, later expanding to what we know now — there have been many memorable football players. Many of those great gridiron stars have played wide receiver. While the game has changed over the years — less ground-and-pound, more wide open passing — the stars on the outside from the past still shine through.
Over the next few weeks — likely this weekend — Duke WR Conner Vernon is slated to top them all. Yes, the former lightly regarded recruit out of Florida is just six catches away from passing Clemson’s Aaron Kelly as the all-time leader in ACC catches.
Along with Kelly, the ACC has produced some great WR’s over the decades. Some found great success in the NFL — Calvin Johnson, Torry Holt, Herman Moore. Others made the NFL, but had far greater impact in the ACC — Peter Warrick, Jermaine Lewis, Jericho Cotchery.
When asked about the impending milestone earlier this week, Vernon was quick to acknowledge the ACC WR stars that came before him.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience just to know how many good receivers have played in this league, and to have my name with Duke’s name next to it at the top – it’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to doing.”
As Duke fans watch the end of what has been a dazzling collegiate career, don’t expect Vernon to be highly regarded around NFL Draft time. Once again, the highly productive player will have to fight and claw for a roster spot, this time in the National Football League.
While he might not impress at the combine with 40-yard-dash times or high-jump marks, he catches what is thrown to him. Blue Devil fans know this. Opposing ACC defensive backs — some now in the NFL — know this. He’s done it 227 times against big time competition.
“I can catch the football when it needs to be caught,” he said. “Any ball thrown my way will definitely be caught. I think that’s what my biggest asset is – my hands.”
Duke takes on Wake Forest in their ACC opener on Saturday. All eyes will be on Vernon’s hands.