How CMU can replace Sullivan, Pimpleton at wide receiver

Central Michigan wide receiver Dallas Dixon scores a touchdown during a home game against Kent State on Wed. Nov. 10 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

How does a football team replace greatness? Central Michigan’s football team will have to face that question throughout spring ball and leading into the season opener at Oklahoma State.

CMU is coming off a 9-4 campaign, rattling off five-straight wins to end the season including the Sun Bowl over a nationally-ranked Washington State squad. So, naturally, expectations are going to be high for the Chippewas in coach Jim McElwain’s fourth campaign leading the squad.

The high expectations bring big questions, however. After the offense produced its best season in recent years, McElwain and company will have to reload with two top options off to the professional ranks.

In JaCorey Sullivan and Kalil Pimpleton, CMU is losing a combined 1,647 receiving yards from the 2021 season. The former was a big-bodied, one-on-one menace who made big plays in the clutch, while the latter was a speed demon who was a threat to score each time he touched the ball.

So, how do the Chippewas go about filling the immense vacancy that their departures create?

For starters, Dallas Dixon returns for his second full season. The senior from Phoenix, Arizona was second on the team in both receiving yards (701) and touchdowns (8). With another full year, he's poised to become the top option for incumbent Miami, Florida sophomore quarterback Daniel Richardson.

Aside from Dixon, however, there are several options that raised eyes in fall camp but were limited contributors during the season.

Finn Hogan, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Maple City, was slated to be a backup to Sullivan leading up to the season. The 2021 recruit impressed during fall camp, carving out a role right away.

"(Hogan has) been everything above the line," said wide receivers coach Alvin Slaughter during 2021 fall camp. "From just his talent level, his work ethic, everything he's been able to bring to the table has been a plus for us. It's a great addition for us to get this kid."

Hogan played 13 snaps in the season-opening loss to Missouri and suffered a broken collarbone, which sidelined him until the Chippewas’ Week 11 meeting with Ball State. He played in just three games, preserving his redshirt.

Now, in 2022, Hogan may be one of the go-to guys for the receiving corps. 

"Finn Hogan obviously was hurt, but he was going to (play), actually he was playing before he got hurt," McElwain said.

Goodrich freshman Tyson Davis was in a similar predicament. Like Hogan, Davis was in a backup role (behind Pimpleton) when the season began. Similarly, an injury in the season opener ended his season and prevented the projected growth and development. 

As a redshirt freshman in 2022, Davis will likely see more time on the field once healthy. McElwain said he'll use the spring to further Davis’ rehab with the anticipation of being fully ready to go once the summer starts.

"I'm telling you that this kid's dynamic and a guy that needs to have the ball in his hands," McElwain said of Davis. "So we're excited to get him back. Feel horrible about what happened, because, you know, last year had been a great growing experience for him."

That 2021 recruiting class is ripe with receiver talent, as Saginaw (Heritage) freshman Chris Parker is also a candidate to receive increased action. Parker made his way onto the travel roster at the start of the season, and received praise from starting defensive back Donte Kent, a sophomore from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for his performance on scout team late in the season.

At 6-foot-2, Parker possesses the necessary size to be a physical threat on the outside.

"As the season wore on, Chris is a guy that actually developed himself," McElwain said. "Once he had a true understanding (of) what we were doing, we felt very comfortable putting him in a game at any time, (but) we wanted to try to preserve his redshirt. Knowing that we had the wealth of receivers, you know, in Remi (Simmons), KP and JaCorey. We didn't want to waste it, you know?. But he was prepared to play if needed.

"I tell you what, (Parker is) smooth. And sometimes you don't think he's running, but everybody else is going way behind. His ability to catch, I really like his hands. And his catch radius, you know, is something that I think will be a positive force."

The Chippewas also boast the return of senior LeVar Gumms, a Northwestern State transfer who played in all 13 games and caught four passes for 32 yards. Sophomore Alec Ward played in six games in 2021, while senior Kenny Brewer III played in 12 and hauled in one pass for six yards.