Winless Texas Southern sits at the bottom of the Southwestern Athletic Conference football standings, but a bright light has risen to the top as the Tigers prepare to play Southern in the State Fair Classic Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Junior-college transfer wide receiver Donnie Corley leads the SWAC in receiving in a conference full of pass-oriented offenses and explosive players. Even more amazing is that he’s managed that feat despite missing one game, though he’d trade it all for a few victories.
“It’s pretty awesome, but we’re 0-6,” said Corley, a 6-feet-2, 190-pound junior. “The accolades are cool but I want to win. We’re trying to keep our heads down and keep moving forward, trying to go 1-0 this week.”
Through five games, Corley has caught 43 passes for 608 yards and two touchdowns. He caught 10 for 152 yards in last week’s 23-20 loss to Missouri S&T and 12 for 198, including an 84-yard TD catch, against Alabama A&M. He’s had at least 100 yards receiving in his past three games.
“His best attribute is he catches the ball, uses his hands,” said first-year Tigers coach Clarence McKinney. “He has really soft hands, and he runs great routes. He’s a tall and fast kid, what we need at receiver. He’s been a bright spot in our offense and a comfort net for our quarterback.”
Corley is going to be a key player against a strong Jaguars defense that has gotten great play recently out of cornerbacks Tamaurice Smith and Jordan Eastling. But both of those players will be challenged trying to corral Corley, a Detroit native who transferred in from Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
“The reason he’s leading the conference is he has soft hands and good speed,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “They do a good job of moving him around to get him the ball. We’ll have our hands full.”
Corley has also managed to work well with two quarterbacks. DeAndre Johnson began the season as the starter but has been out for the past two weeks with a concussion. He started practicing again this week, but junior Devin Williams has taken over. It hasn’t been determined which one will start Saturday.
“It’s not hard to have chemistry with Donnie; all the quarterbacks do,” Williams said. “He’s a great receiver. He talks to us about coverages, routes, passes. We’re always on par with Donnie.
“He understands football, the coverage, what he sees, when he needs to go deep, when he needs to sit down. He’s a smooth route runner. As a quarterback that’s what you want — a smart receiver that will always catch the ball and show up in big time situations.”
Corley knows he’s going against a Jaguars defense that has been playing well lately and is second in the SWAC in interceptions with nine. But he said the team is trying to make progress every week and focus on getting something going in the win column. He credits his teammates, offense, defense and coaching staff with his current success.
“They’ve got a lot of good athletes on defense, but the biggest challenge we have is everybody doing their job and focusing on what we need to focus on,” Corley said. “I’m not surprised (with his success). It’s part of the work we’ve put in as a team. The linemen, quarterbacks, coaches even defense are working every day to help me get better. We all put in a lot of work going back to the summertime.”