Phil Steele announced his preseason All-American teams this week, and three Mountain West players made the cut. Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins was Steele's No. 2 wide receiver in the country on the first-team offense. This is an extremely impressive accolade for the junior star after a prolific sophomore season in which he caught 96 passes for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns, leading the country statistically in both yards and touchdowns.
He is well deserving of the honor, and may well leave for the NFL draft at the end of this year, depending on how the season unfolds. He would be one of the best receivers in the draft, if this past season is an indication of how the coming year will play out. The only major concern for Higgins is the replacement of last year's star quarterbackGarrett Grayson, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. Here's a highlight reel for his sophomore season for those wanting to see the actual footage.
Utah State's utility player Bruce "JoJo" Natson was tagged as Steele's fourth team as a punt returner. Natson is perhaps the most underrated player in the conference, in terms of his overall impact on the field, as he is used in so many difference capacities that it limits his performance in any one area. He is literally greased lightning in a bottle, as shown in this punt returned for a touchdown against Idaho State last year.
Now, for those who don't want to bother doing the math themselves, this was basically an 80-yard run from the time he picks up the ball to the time he crosses the goal line... the college football field is 33~ yards across, and he goes from one side of the field to the other in addition to running the 50-plus yards from just past midfield. He's slowing down as he crosses the goal line, meaning he wasn't sprinting through the end. And it takes him 10 seconds from start to finish. His speed is insane. JoJo's impact is felt beyond the punt returning in areas such as receiving (he was second on the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions) and rushing (3rd on the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns), combining for over 1,000 yards and five touchdowns between the two. Here is JoJo's highlight reel for those interested (mute to avoid potentially offensive language for those so inclined).
The third and final MWC representative is San Diego State's long snapper Jeff Overbaugh. Jeff is coming into his junior season with a perfect career record on PATs (97-for-97), FGs (30-for-30), and punts (105-for-105). He, unfortunately, does not have a highlight reel, but you can find his SDSU bio here (no explicit lyrics on this one).
While all of these players have excellent futures ahead of them, Higgins in particular has an opportunity to make a statement about the quality of receiver that the MWC produces, continuing to build on the framework left by recent MWC greats such as Fresno State's Davante Adams. It will be exciting to see what they do over the next six months to represent their schools and the MWC as a whole.