Filling the shoes of a great player is never easy.
With only three returning starters from last year’s team, plenty of Manhattan Indians have stepped up to replace the talented group lost from that team.
Count junior receiver Bret Fehr among them.
Fehr is the top target when the Indians turn to the passing game, which they’ve done more of this season than in years past. Last year’s play-making receiver was Deante Burton, a freshman at Kansas State.
Replacing that kind of talent hasn’t been easy, but Fehr has done well, despite fighting injuries.
“He’s got great speed,” Manhattan coach Joe Schartz said. “He’s a competitor. When he gets the ball in his hands on the return game, it’s show time. It’s time to go and he has the athletic ability to do it and the competitive spirit to make it happen as well.”
When the run game stalled two weeks ago against Shawnee Heights, Fehr took over.
The junior receiver had his best game of the year, making a difference in the return game while catching a season-high seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
With a reaggravation of a shoulder injury that required surgery last season, the Indians were fortunate to have him.
“At the time, we thought it might be worse than it was,” Schartz said. “But he was able to come back in two weeks.”
Fehr missed games against Highland Park and Topeka West, which were both contests he wouldn’t have played much in anyway. The Indians JV squad got the bulk of the action in those games.
From the onset of the season, quarterback Jacob Holloway and Fehr have had a rapport that other receivers don’t seem to have. Only tight end Winston Dimel is close to his receptions total this year.
Fehr said he couldn’t explain the connection he has with Holloway.
“We’re pretty good friends and we don’t really talk about that connection, it’s just there,” he said. “We’re both left handed, so maybe that has something to do with it.”
For Fehr, football is fun, but baseball is his first love. The junior plays outfielder for the Indians, while also doing some pitching. He hopes to earn a scholarship and be able to play in college.
Fehr said he doesn’t think he could play both baseball and football because of his shoulder.
“I feel like my shoulder’s already in rough shape,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’d be up for college football.”
Schartz said he appreciates Fehr’s ability to make plays that other guys on the team don’t always make, but is most pleased with his team-focused mentality.
“Not just with our receivers, but our whole team, that’s what we’re about,” Schartz said. “People put their egos on the shelf and they offer to our team whatever they can to make the team better. Sometimes it’s people playing a position that they may not prefer. The receiver position is no different in that aspect.
“If you’re going to get on the field, you’d better be a good blocker, because that’s primarily what we’re going to ask you to do. But we have the capability to throw the football and the kids know that, and when the time is right, we have to use it and they’re expected to step up and make plays, just like Bret does.”
Manhattan hosts Washburn Rural tonight at Bishop Stadium in the last regular-season home game of the season. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Those who can’t attend the game can watch The Mercury’s webcast at www.themercury.com.