NEW BRITAIN - Aaron Winchester remembers the first time he stepped on the field with Tyshaun James.
The quarterback had just transferred to Central Connecticut State and during summer workouts, it didn’t take long for Winchester to know what kind of playmaker the junior wide receiver could be this season.
“I’m like, ‘I have to get this guy the ball,’” Winchester recalled after the Blue Devils’ win over Merrimack. “He does good things when he has the ball in his hands.”
With CCSU losing its top three receivers - Malik Rush, Jose Garcia and Dew Jean-Guillaume - from last season, James was expected to become a more integral part of the offense. So far, the Middletown product hasn’t disappointed.
Through the first two games of the season, James has been a do-everything-type of player for the Blue Devils. He leads the team in receiving yards with 127 and is responsible for four of CCSU’s six offensive touchdowns. He also has run the ball six times for 22 yards.
Against Merrimack, James finished with 110 total yards and three touchdowns - two rushing and one receiving, a 22-yard reception he needed to contort his body to bring in. The only thing the receiver didn’t do against the Warriors was throw a pass, although he did take a few snaps from shotgun.
“He showed what he was capable of,” Blue Devils head coach Ryan McCarthy said. “He was the Tyshaun that we need him to be, that he can be. He hasn’t always been that, whether [it’s him not] being in the right frame of mind mentally or he just didn’t get enough targets and we didn’t do a good enough job of getting him the ball. But obviously, when he gets the ball and starts off well, it snowballs from there. He has that type of ability.”
James has seen his production increase during his first two seasons at CCSU. Last year, he finished with 20 catches for 218 yards and four touchdowns, but was mostly used in a complementary role. It resulted in James going four different games without a catch and in five games, finished with 22 yards or less as Rush, Garcia and Jean-Guillaume accounted for nearly 44 percent of Jacob Dolegala’s 164 completions.
It wasn’t until the season finale against Duquesne that he turned his best performance of the fall, with four catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Now, he’s carried that over into the summer and the start of the season.
“[The coaches] just ask me to play football, which I’ve been doing for a long time,” James said of his expanded role in the offense. “I didn’t redshirt my freshman year, so I’ve being learning since then. We had two great receivers in Jose Garcia and Malik Rush who graduated, so I was just learning from them. Now, I’m just trying to help the young guys so they can learn from me.”
The Blue Devils don’t have much experience at the receiver position outside of James and tight end Arthur Gilmore. Emanuel Scott, the wideout opposite of James, came into the season with three career catches and there hasn’t been another receiver who has caught a pass from Winchester heading into Week 3.
That’s what has made James all the more valuable to an offense that led the Northeast Conference in points per game in 2018.
“We knew coming into [the season] - replacing Jake, replacing Malik Rush, replacing Jose Garcia, Drew Jean-Guillame and also [running back] Aaron Dawson, who is hurt right now, that’s 75 percent or 80 percent of our explosive plays from last year,” McCarthy said. “We knew he was going to be a guy we had to find different ways to get him the football, whether he catches it, whether we put him in the backfield, hand it to him. He did all those things [last Saturday].”
And that’s just the way CCSU would like to keep it this season. The more opponents have to prepare to stop James, the better off the Blue Devils and their offense will be.
“He’s out here working his butt off,” Winchester said. “Ty, thus far, has been one of my favorite teammates that I’ve had in my career just because of his competitive edge. He’s willing to do whatever it takes: blocking, catching, running.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org