Maurice Stovall had a solid freshman season pulling in 18 grabs for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns. His first touchdown catch put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a 15-yard touchdown grab against Michigan State. McKnight ended up with only nine receptions for 91 yards on the season but his 21-yard reception against Boston College gave Irish fans a glimpse of his potential.
Both players says while they played last year, they knew they had work to do in the off-season. "We've been training since the end of the season last year," said Stovall. ‘Summer workouts are our most intense workouts and I think for most of the guys on our team, summer is where your body starts to get stronger and you add more weight. I think that's what happened with me. I'm around 230 right now."
McKnight also went to work this off-season. "Right now I'm sitting at about 210," said McKnight. "Mick Marotti worked us really hard in the weight room and I think we've both gotten bigger, stronger and quicker. Hopefully our hard work will help us come out and produce."
Both players realize they have a lot of expectations placed upon them but they say they don't worry about the expectations—they just play the game. "You go out and play your game and you don't let anything distract you from what you are trying to accomplish," said McKnight.
"I don't think about the expectations," said Stovall. "I just work hard to help this team win and the rest will take care of itself."
Wide Receivers coach Trent Miles pushes both players on the field and at practice and they both agree that this is exactly what they need. "Somedays you might feel like you don't want to be there but you don't want to get chewed out by your wide receiver coach. He's always talking to us about every little thing and wants us to be perfect in every little thing but that all counts in a game. When you concentrate on it in practice, the more you'll be ready for the game."
"The harder he is on us the more we'll be ready for any game situation," McKnight said. "In the long run it's going to be good for us because we'll be ready for it during the games."
Stovall and McKnight has the chance to become one of the best one-two punches at wide receiver for the Irish in recent memory. Neither seemed concerned about that—they are only concerned on winning the National Championship while at Notre Dame. "It would be nice to be the best duo here ever but that's not my goal," said McKnight. "My goal is to win the National Championship here and to become the best receivers in the nation—that's all I want.""I agree with Rhema on that," said Stovall. "There's a lot of hype of that but you can't really think about that. You're just here to do your job and our job is to win the National Championship. All that other stuff will come if we do that."
The Irish have four talented wide receivers in this freshmen class and Stovall and McKnight say they have become leaders while just sophomores by trying to help the freshmen along. "We do have young guys below you and they're always asking questions about what they need to do on a particular play. You have to be more precise in your routes because they look up to you."
It's even harder on us because we're sophomores and we've got set an example," McKnight said. "It's not too often that sophomores are known as leaders so we've got step up our game to teach the younger guys what to do when we're still learning."
Both McKnight and Stovall think they're ready for bigger roles this year. "I'm ready, I've worked hard this off-season and we're starting to get a better understanding of the offense," said Stovall. "We came here to make plays and hopefully that is what we'll do this year."
"I think we'll be a lot better this year," said McKnight. "Just having a year to work in the system and to get our bodies ready for the season will help us. I think the offense will be a lot better this year."
It's obvious to Irish Eyes that both players have developed a close friendship and should be catching passes together for many years to come. So which player is better? "You can't really say," said McKnight. "What he doesn't have, I have and what I don't have, he has." "We're kind of like a deadly combination," said Stovall.