McCain's shift to wide receiver a hit for Idaho

Vandals senior switched from quarterback to receiver in the offseason.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comApril 11, 2014 

Northern Illinois defensive end Joe Windsor dives for Idaho quarterback Joshua McCain on a run during the first half of a Sept. 14 game at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

MOSCOW-PULLMAN DAILY NEWS FILE

Sometimes when a person travels straight down one path, it's the exit that turns out to be the best course.

That seems to be the case for Idaho senior football player Joshua McCain, a quarterback since he was in grade school - until now.

McCain moved to wide receiver before spring practices, and has thrived.

In Idaho's marathon 190-play scrimmage Saturday, McCain caught eight passes for 218 yards and scored five touchdowns.

"He's got some great natural ability out there," coach Paul Petrino said. "I've been around some great ones, and he has a chance to be real special."

That's high praise for the 6-foot-2, 185-pound McCain, but the San Jose, Calif., native has done little to temper those expectations.

Brought to Moscow from De Anza (Calif.) College before last spring's practices, McCain was praised for his dual-threat capabilities. Last fall, that was his role as the backup quarterback, when he ran for 223 yards (second on the team) in eight games.

After throwing only 27 passes as Chad Chalich and Taylor Davis got a bulk of the snaps, McCain decided in the offseason to make the switch from throwing balls to catching them.

"It took a little time for me to do it, because I'd never played receiver before, but I thought it would fit me, that I could get on the field and make plays," McCain said. "It's been a great decision so far."

Petrino said he had considered approaching McCain about switching late last season, but tabled it until this winter.

"He approached us first, so that worked out pretty well," Petrino said. "He gets great separation, we already knew he was fast, he's got long arms and he does a great job on judging deep balls. We need to get the ball in his hands this season."

McCain will get another chance to impress in Friday's scrimmage. He said the transition has been eased by already knowing the playbook, but getting routes down has taken more time.

"I want to be the best at it, and I know I only have this year, but there's time - I won't rush it," McCain said. "It took time to find myself in this position, so being patient has been a good thing."

The receiving corps could be a strength this season with McCain joining a group that includes senior Dezmon Epps (980 yards last season) and sophomores Deon Watson, Jacob Sannon and Buck Cowan. McCain said he is anxious to get on the field more often at a position where three or four are on the field at once, as opposed to just one.

When asked whether he has been surprised at McCain's ability to make the change, Petrino said, "Yeah, a little bit."

There likely will be a play or two a game where the Vandals will use McCain behind center to take advantage of his arm and speed - and perhaps some trick plays. But McCain is all receiver, something even he never envisioned.

"Everybody's been a little surprised, but I knew in my heart I could do it, confident I had the capability to help this team," McCain said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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