Akron’s Jerome Lane Jr. has played every position on the football field in his life except offensive line. But the sophomore found a home this season as a big-play wide receiver for the Zips.
The 6-3, 220-pound native of Akron, Ohio, didn’t learn he’d switch to receiver until a week before fall camp started. Even with short notice, he’s caught 35 catches for 780 yards and eight TDs entering Tuesday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State. And his average of 21.4 yards per catch ranks tied for fifth in the FBS.
After shuffling between linebacker, defensive end and safety, all before the start of his sophomore season, Lane didn’t bat an eye at another position change when receivers coach Jeff Bowden approached him in late July.
“Maybe they saw something in me that I didn’t know,” Lane said. “I just told him, ‘Wherever you need me, coach, I’m there.’”
Akron head coach Terry Bowden said he was searching for explosiveness on the edge, and the Zips found that in the son of Jerome Lane Sr., who took a pass from current Arizona coach Sean Miller and shattered the backboard with a one-handed dunk for Pitt in 1988. The dunk still holds a place on highlight reels, thanks in part to Bill Raftery’s famous call of, “Send it in, Jerome.”
Bowden said as Lane Jr. adjusted to the position, he’s become a bear to cover with his 4.5-second 40-yard speed.
“As he's learned to feel comfortable out there, he's difficult to cover one-on-one and does a good job,” Bowden said. “He's been an exciting story because we've tried to find a home for him.”
Lane Jr. said it’s still weird to focus solely on one position after changing so often and playing everything from running back to receiver to safety to kicker and punter in high school. He said learning a receiver’s footwork has proven difficult, admitting he was so amped up to make a play the first couple games that he cut his routes short.
“Once I really got comfortable, got the plan of the game that I play, everything started coming,” Lane Jr. said. “Now the route running is easy.”
He hasn’t abandoned everything he learned on the defensive side of the ball though. He said the physicality he needed as a linebacker and defensive end translate to offense, where he needs to shuck defenders to get clear of the line of scrimmage.
He reminisced about how much fun he had hitting people and the rush that a sack brings. Akron only allowed him to play one snap at defensive end this season, and he started to hang his head before catching himself.
“The intensity of getting a sack is crazy,” he said. “But scoring touchdowns is awesome.”
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Utah State vs. Akron
▪ When: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday
▪ Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf), Boise
▪ TV: ESPN
▪ Records: Utah State 6-6, 5-3 MW; Akron 7-5, 5-3 MAC
▪ Coaches: Utah State, Matt Wells (25-15, third year); Akron, Terry Bowden (18-30, fourth year; 158-92-2, 22nd year overall)
▪ Series: First meeting
▪ Vegas line: Utah State by 6 1/2
▪ Tickets: $20-$90, at ticketmaster.com; $24 for FitOne Family Field Day (pre-game NFL combine-type event at 10:30 a.m., lunch and game ticket)
▪ Tuesday weather: High of 40 degrees, light rain expected (70 percent chance, per weather.com)
▪ Event: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Mash Bash at The Village in Meridian will be open to fans from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday