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These 3 under-the-radar receivers have helped their high school teams start strong

Metro Detroit fans know all about elite receivers in Antonio Gates Jr. of Dearborn Fordson, Tay'Shawn Trent of Harper Woods, Tyrell Henry of Roseville, Lynn Wyche-El of Detroit King and Jameel Gardner of Detroit Cass Tech. But several under-the radar receivers are now making their names known as well.

While Gates and Henry are headed to Michigan State, Trent to Michigan and Gardner to Bowling Green, Wyche-El has multiple offers on the table as well, and is good condition to play at the next level.

Joseph Williams is making the most of his senior year at Detroit King and the same can be said for Dylan Dickens of Ortonville Brandon. Saline junior Roman Laurio also has been an impact player.

Williams is big-play man for King

Williams came into the season as the No. 3 or 4 option for King five-star junior quarterback Dante Moore, with Wyche-El displaying his ability to catch the ball in space and make things happen last season.

Lamont Parks also was expected to be a big playmaker after transferring from Detroit Western, where he earned a spot on The News' All-Detroit first team last year while grabbing 63 passes and scoring 12 touchdowns.

And, 6-foot-2, 200-pound Chansey Willis Jr. — the premier point guard in the PSL — showed his big-play ability late in the ’20 season.

Wyche-El, Parks and Willis have all caught TD passes this season, but Williams has enjoyed a strong start as well with 14 receptions for 255 yards and four TDs to help King to a 2-1 record and No. 1 ranking in The News Super 20.

“Joseph is a guy who played more toward the end of his junior year last year,” King coach Tyrone Spencer said. “He was one of those guys who played youth football in the 10th grade, so 11th grade he was a guy nobody really knew because he was playing Little League football.

“We saw something in him at the end of last season because he was always deadly in the red zone. He has long arms, big hands so he’s going to catch everything. This season he’s just taken it to the next level. He’s a senior. He’s more confident. He’s a big body and breaks tackles.”

Williams is fast, athletic and physical at 6-3 and 200 pounds. He has been tough to stop on the quick slant, scoring on a 55-yard toss from Moore in a heartbreaking 42-40 loss at Carmel (Ind.). In that game he also scored on a 10-yard TD grab in the corner of the end zone with eight seconds remaining for a 40-36 lead before Carmel won on a Hail Mary.

Williams scored on TD grabs of 6 and 15 yards in a 41-34 victory over rival and then-No. 2 ranked Detroit Cass Tech last Friday night.

Williams said he doesn’t regret playing Little League ball through his sophomore year. He said he dedicated himself to the weight room during the pandemic to get stronger, then worked on his craft under the watchful eye of Curtis Blackwell at Sound Mind Sound Body. He got in 7-on-7 work during trips to Florida, Texas and Tennessee this past spring.

“It was a crazy decision I made (to play Little League in 10th grade), but I never regret anything because look at where I’m at,” Williams said.

“I feel like COVID inspired me to get stronger because I knew it would be tough for the recruiting process. I felt it was my opportunity to get on top, so I got in the weight room to get faster and quicker, worked really, really hard.

“Then, I went to a lot of camps in the offseason, so I really expected big things to happen. It’s great to see how much I’ve improved, it’s crazy. I always knew I could be an impact player, but that Carmel game showed what I’m capable of.”

Williams hasn’t received a Division 1 offer, owning offers from Division II Saginaw Valley and Northwood.

Dickens shows versatility for Brandon

Dickens was looking forward to his senior year after having surgery on his right shoulder in late April.

He had a solid junior year to help Brandon to a 7-2 record, accounting for 332 yards rushing while grabbing 18 of Micah Miller’s passes for 334 yards.

Dickens was looking forward to his final season as a slot receiver with Miller, who threw for 3,392 yards and 37 TDs in 20 starts, also returning.

Dickens had five receptions for 165 yards and two TD catches in a season-opening 65-30 win over Bay City Central. He was forced to sit out in a 53-8 Week 2 win over Flint Southwestern after getting his shoulder banged up.

Brandon coach Brad Zube was thrilled to have Dickens back against Lake Fenton last Friday, especially since Miller suffered an elbow injury early in the game.

Dickens took over at quarterback and ran wild out of the wildcat formation, rushing for 351 yards (40 carries) and three TDs in a 48-40 win to push Brandon’s record to 3-0.

“Our quarterback went out with an injury late in the second quarter and Dylan went to work,” Zube said of Dickens, who accounted for 429 yards of total offense against Lake Fenton, including 3-of-5 passing for 47 yards and a TD. “His natural position is in the slot, but he also operates as our wildcat quarterback where he did the majority of his work in the second half.

“Dylan is a fierce competitor. He is a great teammate and with the help of his offensive line refused to let us lose at Lake Fenton.”

Dickens recently was offered a roster spot at Division III Alma College. The pandemic wiped out camps prior to his junior year, then his shoulder surgery prevented him from attending camps this summer.

“We had a lot of returners on offense, knew we’d have high-scoring games like last year and be pretty much unstoppable,” the 5-9, 185-pound Dickens said. “It’s awesome to have a quarterback that can read defenses as well as Micah Miller could. It's just a great feeling to know you’d have guaranteed catches every time you stepped on the field. It’s great playing in the slot because we get a lot of running in, like handoffs (on jet sweep). I was looking for a breakout year.

“It was tough to see Micah go down since he was the leader of our offense. I knew we needed someone to answer the call, so I knew I had to step up. I was comfortable in that position because I did the same thing last year against Corunna. I had to deliver, and everyone stepped up, the whole team rallied around each other once he went down. It was awesome to see. Our line did such a great job."

Laurio comes to rescue

It’s hard to believe any team has been hit harder by injuries than Saline, a reason head coach Joe Palka is grateful for Laurio’s development as a playmaker.

First, Saline lost standout running back Josh Rush to an ankle injury in the third practice, forcing him to miss the first three games of the season.

Then, Army-bound dual-threat quarterback Larry Robinson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the week following a Week 1 34-30 win over Hudsonville.

If that wasn’t enough, receiver Caden Winston suffered a high-ankle injury, forcing him to miss multiple games as well.

Sophomore quarterback C.J. Carr has stepped up in Robinson’s absence and helped Saline to a 3-0 record and No. 9 ranking. Laurio also has been a big reason for the start.

Laurio has 14 receptions for 285 yards and two TDs, including four catches for nearly 100 yards and a TD in last Friday’s 34-14 win over Ypsilanti Lincoln. It was Saline’s 40th straight SEC Red division victory.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Palka said of the 6-foot Laurio. “We felt he could do a nice job of tracking the deep ball, but he’s turned into the complete receiver. Winning the contested balls and also getting yards after the catch. Showing he’s faster than you thought he was.

“This has been a year of injuries that I’ve never seen before. Josh (Rush), Larry (Robinson) and Caden (Winston), those three guys were going to be the strength of our offense, our explosive players and now other kids like C.J. (Carr) and Roman have stepped up and given our offense an identity.”

Laurio has been rewarded for his start, receiving an offer from Bowling Green last week.