PAULA CAPUTO — Staff Writer
After being redshirted his freshman year, Owls starting wide receiver, Willie Epps, burst onto the scene in 2009, ranking second in the league in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
“Coach [Rich Cavanaugh], the first wide receiver coach, Dan Parady and Coach Chris Bergeski—those guys helped me improve my technique,” Epps said. “They taught me how to correctly run patterns and identify coverage, so I give a lot of credit to those three gentlemen for helping me become the receiver I am today.”
Epps, who graduated from Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, was also a member of the basketball and track teams, but said those sports just helped keep him active and football was always his top priority. Epps also said that the decision to come to Southern Connecticut State University was a no-brainer, because he liked the campus atmosphere and was impressed with the football program.
When it comes down to overall goals for the season, Epps said that of the team—which are winning the conference championship and going to the Division II playoffs.
“I just want us to have a successful season,” Epps said. “If my team is successful, then I know I’m doing something correct.”
Epps is going for a degree in sports management and plans on continuing on to graduate school for education. An athletic director and a coach are the two careers he said he has interest in pursuing.
Epps also said he tries to get involved with community service around SCSU. A charity event for multiple sclerosis and a basketball tournament to raise money for the American Cancer Society are just some of the functions he has been involved with. According to Cavanaugh, Epps is the ultimate student-athlete.
“He excels in the classroom; he excels at community service; he’s a guy that’s very active in the campus community,” Cavanaugh said. “As far as a football player is concerned, he works very hard at being the very best he could be.”
Cavanaugh said Epps is without question one of the leaders on the team, a leader with passion and determination. He shows outstanding leadership skills on and off the field. Epps is upbeat and outgoing, and always looks at the glass as half full, but he also has a serious side.
“I always tell the incoming freshmen,” Cavanaugh said, “if you want to follow somebody, follow the example that Willie Epps is going to set.”
Cavanaugh said he holds high expectations for Epps, because he has God-given talent. He expects Epps to be able to go out week-in and week-out to make big plays for the team and to dominate the
Privott, said Epps is a huge asset to him on an off the field.
“All we do is laugh; it’s always upbeat and never a bad time,” Privott said. “On the field, it’s almost the same. We’re able to keep each other calm in any situation, and that’s great in the huddle. After any play, no matter what the outcome is, we come back and regroup.”
Privott said Epps is a huge motivator for the team; he leads by example. Every practice they concentrate on working together and bettering each other.
“He’s my toughest critic,” Privott said. “Even on plays where a lot of people will say ‘good play,’ if there’s something I could’ve done better, he’ll point that out.
Epps is someone the whole team can look up to, Privott said. He’s the perfect teammate. He helps the team as a whole, helps each teammate individually and helps to keep everyone’s head in the game.
Last season Epps earned All-Northeast-10 Conference honors and led the league in yards after catche. He set a new SCSU single-game receiving record with 254 yards on nine catches in the game against Merrimack and caught a 97-yard touchdown pass to set a new program mark for longest touchdown reception.
Wide receiver coach and Epps’ former teammate, Chris Bergeski, said it’s a pleasure working with Epps and watching him grow as a player.
“He’s definitely always got a good attitude coming to practice and in the games,” Bergeski said. “It definitely rubs off on the other players. You never really have to ask him to be excited or ready for practice.”
Bergeski said Epps is easy to coach. He doesn’t make many errors, but when he does, he has no problem fixing it. He’s always finding ways to make his game better and to help out the team.
“A lot of defenses like to focus on stopping our run game,” said Bergeski. “Having our receivers and someone like Willie makes our offense that more dangerous.”
Bergeski said Epps will ask him questions about something as minor as feet alignment, stance or hand technique. Epps also asks the coaches to explain the practice drills in depth, and why the team is performing these drills so that he can gain a better understanding.
According to Epps, his teammates and his coaches, Owls football has a good chance of going all the way this year.
“We have full capability of making the playoffs this season,” Epps said. “As long as we come out and perform each week and forget about games in the past. We need to focus on the opponent that’s ahead.”