Demarcus Ayers Team MVP (photo by the author)
A lack of experience at the wide receiver position didn't stop a Washington State commit from making big plays on Saturday night.
Coming into the IFAF U-19 World Championship, 2013 Lancaster (TX) wide receiver Demarcus Ayers needed to take advantage of valuable reps at his future position at Washington State. The 5-10, 165-pounder played quarterback for his high school, so he has more game experience throwing the football than catching it.
The lack of experience didn't hurt him on Saturday night, when he torched American Samoa to the tune of seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, earning the Team MVP award in the process. The first American score was a kickoff return by Florida State commit Jesus Wilson to start the contest, but Ayers was a major factor in each of the other three scores.
On the first Team USA possession, Memphis commit Brayden Scott found Ayers streaking downfield on a go route and the athletic wideout showed an impressive final burst to separate from the defender on the play before hauling in the 43-yard catch. Two plays later, Scott snuck the ball in from a yard out to push the lead to 13-0.
Early in the second quarter, head coach Steve Specht took a calculated risk going for it on fourth and goal from the Samoan seven in an attempt to further stretch the lead. Perhaps he felt so comfortable because he could dial up Ayers in the slot with a man-beater route -- a slant -- and Ayers did exactly that to continue consolidating momentum for the United States.
Late in the game, after Team USA had gone nearly 30 minutes of game time without scoring, a 24-yard catch and run from Ayers helped set up the game-clinching touchdown with less than five minutes left in the game. Ayers made one defender miss with a spin move and then juked another in the open field to put the U.S. right on the edge of field goal range.
On a field that included several extremely explosive athletes in the aforementioned Wilson and four-star prospect Tarean Folston, Ayers looked just as dynamic and elusive as either of the two to dominate the proceedings at Burger Stadium in Austin.
After the game, Ayers struggled to find words to describe the feeling of winning the Team MVP award and getting a victory for Team USA.
"I can't even explain the feeling right now, I just want to thank God, thank my family, thank my teammates, first of all," he gushed. "Through the whole week of practice with two-a-days, we worked hard, we really did."
It helped that Ayers and his teammates took the tough, feisty American Samoan side seriously coming in.
"We didn't underestimate these guys, we knew they'd been together for a long time," the future Cougar said. "We just came in and stuck to the game plan."
"They were tough. They played hard and physical the whole game long. The game was never put away. Regardless of the circumstances, they kept pushing us and we just came through."
So far, the experience has been an extremely positive one for Ayers.
"It's been awesome. Like I said, it's been a blessing to come out here and play with a lot of kids just as good as I am, learn from them, learn from coach Ward. When you have a Heisman winner as your receivers coach, it's pretty good for you, being around him and seeing how he does things. He taught us a lot of things we didn't know when we came out the first day."
That would be wide receivers coach Charlie Ward, the former Florida State star, who has been helping Ayers refine several aspects of his technique.
"Route dip, coming in and out of my breaks, coming back to the play, adjusting to any type of ball," said Ayers of the coaching tips. "Not complaining about how the ball is thrown -- just going to get the ball."
It's a talented receiving corps for the United States and many didn't expect Ayers to make a big impact on the field under the bright lights. Except for Ayers himself, of course, as he exuded a quiet confidence after his impressive effort.
"I really did," Ayers said when asked if he expected to excel. "This week of practice, a lot of guys really didn't think that I was going to be as valuable as I was. Throughout practice I was trying to be smooth, come out here and learn. I kind of messed up on some things. I didn't do everything perfect, but when I came out here tonight, I just tried to stick to the gameplan and did what I do best."
Quietly confident, but still humble. Not a bad combination.
Somewhere, new Wazzu head coach Mike Leach is smiling. It may be a smug smile and he may be wearing a pirate hat.