FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2003
'The Three Amigos'
When seniors Travis Lewis, Charles Harper and sophomore Julio Santiago first line up at wide receiver for the Dolphins, opposing defensive backs can oftentimes get a little overconfident. That's because Lewis (5-7, 161), Harper (5-6, 145) and Santiago (5-6, 150) average 5-foot-6 and 157 pounds. Not exactly the most intimidating lineup in college football.
"[Defenses] can underestimate us all they want," says Lewis, who is coming off a career day in which he caught five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the Dolphins' thrilling come-from-behind win over Wingate. "We know that we are good players and we're going to make things happen no matter how tall or how small we are."
If defenses have underestimated this trio, they may be wising up in a hurry. "The Three Amigos" have combined for 21 receptions for 336 yards in the Dolphins' first two games, which accounts for more than two-thirds of JU's receiving totals (34 rec., 468 yds.). Harper grabbed a career-best six passes in the season opener against Lenoir-Rhyne, while Lewis' touchdown catch in the comeback classic over Wingate sparked the Dolphins fourth quarter run.
Santiago also turned in a stellar performance against the Bulldogs with a career-best five catches for 80 yards, while gaining 141 all-purpose yards thanks to three punt returns and three kickoff returns. For the season, Santiago is averaging more than 16 yards per kick return, and has teamed with Harper on special teams for four tackles. Last season, Harper and Santiago combined for 27 catches and 21 tackles.
"They might be small in stature, but their heart makes up for any lack of size," said head coach Steve Gilbert. "All three of them are great competitors and have a true passion to excel."
"The Three Amigos" have big shoes to fill with the departure of last season's go-to receiver, All-American Jon Turner who was the focal point of the Dolphins' offense with 60 receptions for 890 yards and six touchdowns. Opposing defenses keyed on Turner all season, while concentrating on shutting down the JU run. This year, sophomore quarterback Mike Sturgill is able to spread the ball around because of a more balanced passing attack, as evident by seven different receivers with two-or-more catches in the first two games.
"Without question our offense is harder to prepare for this season because we are more balanced," said Gilbert. "The defense will have a tougher time deciding who to key on because any of our receivers are capable of having a big game."
The more balanced air attack has led to more room for the Dolphins' running game, which has averaged 132.0 yards in the first two contests, as opposed to 93.5 yards per game in 2002. Lewis, JU's leading returning receiver and the quiet leader of the pack, is tied for first on the team with eight catches for a team-best 195 yards. This from a guy who nearly didn't play at all this season after constant shoulder problems slowed him following the 2002 season. Lewis missed spring practice, but his determination to rehabilitate his shoulder and his big play ability, has put him at the fore of the JU receiving corps.