TUCSON, Ariz. This was to have been a season to remember for Dan Buckner, Arizonas senior wide receiver who has a wide smile and vice-grip hands.
Then again, who is to say it hasnt been?
Hes been sound and solid all year, just a bit under-the-radar as sophomore teammate Austin Hill has stepped up as Arizona's big-play receiver this season.
Overshadowed? He shouldnt be, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Said Buckner: I dont feel overshadowed by Hill at all. I was talking the other day and (saying) that I dont think RichRod has had so much production at wideout.
Austin is my partner in crime. When we are lined up on the same side, it makes it that much easier. I dont think I would have had as much success without Austin and vice versa.
And both have been pretty successful.
Heading into this weekends game with Utah on Saturday, the two have combined for 80 catches and 10 touchdowns in Pac-12 Conference play.
Its clear, teams cant sleep on Buckner, a 6-foot-4, 214-pound athletic receiver who can make hard catches look easy and easy catches look routine. For the season, he has 57 catches for 716 yards. Hill has 62 catches for 1,023 yards.
Buckner is second on the team (to Hill) in receptions, yards and touchdowns (five). He averages 12.6 yards per catch. With a pair of 100-yard receiving games, Buckner joins Hill (four 100-yard games) as one of three Pac-12 duos with multiple 100-yard games. Buckner has 34 receptions of 10-plus yards. He has 11 with more than 20 yards.
Last week, he came up big, catching Arizonas two touchdown passes from fill-in quarterbacks B.J. Denker in a win over Colorado.
It felt good, but it didnt feel better than getting the win and getting bowl eligible," Buckner said. "We were saying no matter where the ball was, we need to make the catch to keep his (Denker's) confidence up.
It worked. Denker was 12 for 14 for 136 yards. Buckner, Hill and David Richards each had three receptions.
I am really proud of (Buckner), Rodriguez said. He is what you want out of your seniors to have their best year. He has done a good job and he has a lot of emotion, and sometimes I have to get on him about that, but he has come to play every game. I think he has been one of the best receivers in our league, and I think he has put himself in a position to hopefully keep playing next year.
Thatll be determined. But he has the tools.
Until then, hell continue to work his way to improving. He and Hill made it a point to learn all of Arizonas wide receiver spots, making him much more versatile.
I consider myself a student of the game - I love football, he said.
When you know all the positions, it helps you play your position. You know why you are running what you are running. And, you understand and (are) not getting in the way of things. Offense is a team game, and football is the ultimate team game, you cant be out there doing your own thing.
Hes often said numbers dont matter; performance does. So hell continue to plug away and finish out his career on what he hopes to be a three-game ride one additional game that would include a bowl game.
I feel like I left some plays on the field, Buckner said in evaluating his senior season. Theres always room for improvement. I feel like Ive improved my blocking, which has shown. All the wideouts have done that.
He's grateful for the opportunity of being a mentor to the younger receivers.
That plays a vital point, he said. There are enough footballs to go around for everyone. You dont know where the ball is going to go, but when your number is called, we have to make sure we make the play.