CONWAY — Here’s what is known about Coastal Carolina’s new offense so far ...
First-year offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude wants to get the Chanticleers moving down the field quickly. From all accounts, that’s going to mean a significant emphasis on the passing game. Junior receiver Matt Hazel is a preseason all-conference pick who had more touchdown receptions last year than any other returning Big South wideout. And he and senior quarterback Aramis Hillary – both from North Augusta, S.C. – have now spent two and a half years of practice time and offseason training working on their chemistry together.
So looking at it from that perspective then, it would seem that what’s yet to be determined is just how big of a season the talented 6-foot-3 Hazel will have this fall.
“The sky’s the limit in this offense,” CCU receivers coach Renato Diaz said. “[With] how we spread the ball around and our balance on offense – pass and run, being able to keep teams off balance – [his potential is] unlimited really. Because of the type of player he is, the effort level he gives every rep he’s out on the field – he never takes a play off – the only thing that will limit him is ... nothing.”
The Chants are stocked with receiving targets, from the return of sixth-year-senior tight end David Duran to the emergence of junior slot receiver Niccolo Mastromatteo to the still-untapped potential on the outside of speedy junior DeMario Bennett, the transfer from South Carolina in his second year with the program.
But after establishing himself as the Chants’ premier receiver last season, Hazel might just secure his place as one of the top playmakers in the entire league this fall if he continues the trajectory he launched as a true freshman.
That was the year he tied Jerome Simpson’s program record for touchdown catches in a game with three against Liberty – all in the first half, for that matter. Then came the 32-catch, 488-yard, six-touchdown campaign last season as he was the only Coastal player with at least 20 receptions in a spread-the-wealth approach to the passing game.
And while he admits there was some initial apprehension about assimilating into a new offensive system this year, Hazel seems to have embraced Patenaude’s uptempo approach just fine.
“It’s mostly a pass-heavy offense,” Hazel said Wednesday as the Chants continued preparation for Saturday’s season opener against North Carolina A&T. “Receivers love to have the ball in their hands, [and] coach P (Patenaude), he just wants us to make plays. He trusts us.”
According to the new coaching staff, Hazel has earned that trust with a strong first impression and a focus that has been as determined in the meeting room as on the field.
“He wants to learn,” Diaz said. “He was really interested in finding out about technique and all the things that he needed to do to get better. That was really what impressed me most.”
Said Patenaude: “He’s actually come a long way, I would say, since spring in regard to understanding defenses, route running, really going up and capturing the ball. ... He’s become a much better route runner. Usually when you’re a young guy and you’re talented and you have a lot of success, it’s basically [because] you’re better than that guy you’re playing against – you jump over him, you run by him. And he did all that.”
Now, the coaches are hoping Hazel’s improvement on the nuances of the position will help him make another leap as a junior. Of course, opposing defenses might have something to do with that too. Patenaude expects Hazel to see a good amount of double teams this season, but added, “if they single him up, we’ll try to find him and see if he can make plays for us.”
Hillary said he and Hazel continued their annual offseason throwing program and feel confident about the rhythm they have together. They even made a point to get a throwing session in when both were home in North Augusta briefly this summer for a couple weeks.
“We’ve been pretty much [training together] year round at least once a week every week for the last two and a half years or so,” Hillary said.
“I think it will all pay off this season,” Hazel added.
As he begins the season, Hazel already ranks third in program history with 11 career touchdown catches, seventh with 764 career receiving yards and eighth with 52 receptions.
Not that he wanted to put much emphasis on such things. After all, he’s got two more years to leave his mark on the program record books and a new season that begins Saturday to focus on for now. First things first.
“I’ve heard about it,” he said. “But I’m not really paying attention to it. I’m just going to keep on playing, keep on doing what I do.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.