Returning starters Beau Kelly, Mataio Talalemotu, Nate Bennett lead deep group of pass catchers for Vikings.

COURTESY PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN/PORTLAND STATE ATHLETICS - In 2021, Beau Kelly caught 69 passes for 981 yards and 19 touchdowns and piled up 1,111 all-purpose yards as one of the top receivers in the Big Sky Conference.Successful connections are what being a receiver in college football is all about.

At Portland State, that mantra goes well beyond the football field.

When the Vikings open their 2022 season on Thursday, Sept. 1 at San Jose State, the deepest position group in coach Bruce Barnum's program will be the wide receivers.

Even with one of their top weapons — sophomore Darien Chase — lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles, the Vikings have depth, diversity and big-play ability at the receiver position. Add in experience and leadership, and it's a group that expects big things from itself in 2022.

"The group makes life easy. Everybody knows I like to run the ball and I've always had one good wide receiver, maybe two. Now I have a pack. The entire group is fun to watch and effective," Barnum said.

Leading the charge are seniors Mataio Talalemotu and Beau Kelly, two of the Vikings' five team captains.

Talalemotu, a Beaverton High product whose father Ina played on PSU teams that reached NCAA Division II national title games in 1987 and 1988, started every game as a true freshman in 2018. Hamstring injuries cost Talalemotu a few games both as a sophomore in 2019 and in his junior season last fall, but he has 100 career catches for 1,526 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Hoping to avoid a similar injury this season, listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Talalemotu said he improved his strength and flexibility since last season, and also committed to doing the right things to warm up his body before each practice.

Barnum said Talalemoto, when healthy, can run past defensive backs.

Talalemotu said much of his offseason focus was strengthening the bonds and commitment to the program from all of his teammates. Talalemotu also said he spent more time digging into the Xs and Os.

COURTESY PHOTO: STEVEN ERLER/PORTLAND STATE ATHLETICS - Beaverton High grad Mataio Talalemotu, pictured catching a touchdown pass in 2021 at Hawaii, worked to improve his flexibility and strength for his senior season at Portland State."I can't be 6-6 and I can't run a 4.2 40," Talalemotu said. "I've got to improve my game in ways that I think I can, and (the tactical) side of it is something that I've tried to focus on."

Kelly, listed at 5-9 and 165 pounds, relies on quickness and technique to be one of the most consistent receivers in the Big Sky Conference. Last season he led the Big Sky Conference with 69 catches for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns yet somehow was only a second-team all-conference selection.

"Knock on wood, no one can even cover the kid," Barnum said of Kelly. "He's worked to get to where he is now. He wanted to come back and leave a legacy."

And he plans to be even more reliable as a fifth-year senior.

"Last year, I believe that I had too many drops," Kelly said. "I just want to focus on eye discipline and being more consistent with looking the ball in and just having stronger hands upon the catch."

The youngster of the group is 6-3, 195-pound Nate Bennett, who as a true freshman started all 11 games last season and made 50 catches for 616 yards and four touchdowns.

Bennett said work with local sports performance coach Erik Jernstrom helped him improve his speed.

COURTESY PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN/PORTLAND STATE ATHLETICS - As a freshman last season, Portland State's Nate Bennett started all 11 games and caught 50 passes for 616 yards and four touchdowns.The experience at receiver might help the transition for new starting quarterback Dante Chachere, a third-year sophomore known for his ability to run. Chachere takes over for Davis Alexander, now a reserve QB with Montreal in the Canadian Football League, who ranks second only to Neil Lomax in Portland State career passing yardage.

Talalemotu noted that Charchere has been around the program, knows the offense and has good chemistry with the receivers.

"He's a different quarterback, but everyone's different," Talalemotu said. "He sees things a little bit different. Getting adjusted to him has been good. It's been fun. It was a pretty quick learning curve."

The loss of Chase, Barnum noted, is a tough blow for the graduate of Vancouver's Union High who made a name for himself with a series of high-difficulty catches last season after transferring from Nebraska. Losing Chase for the season — he is expected to have at least two seasons of eligibility left — is offset by a return to health of Emmanuel Daigbe, a wrestler turned receiver who has not played since 2019 between the 2020 COVID season and a 2021 groin injury. In 2019, just his second playing the position, Daigbe led the Viks with 40 receptions for 651 yards and seven touchdowns.

COURTESY PHOTO: TROY WAYRYNEN/PORTLAND STATE ATHLETICS - Finally healthy, senior Emmanuel Daigbe (80) hopes to recapture his form from 2019 when he caught 40 passes for 651 yards and seven touchdowns.A former two-time Washington state wrestling champion at Kent-Meridian High, Daigbe might be the most physical of the receivers.

"You look at him and his body and he's the guy that does everything. He adds some things that others don't, like blocking," Barnum said.

Among other receivers looking to make an impact are Marquis Spiker, a 6-3 senior in his second season at PSU after playing at Washington, and Maclaine Griffin, a 6-2 senior, who played in 23 games (one start) over four years at Boise State.

Barnum said the depth and experience of his receivers "changes play calling. It allows you to know you can truly be 50-50 (run and pass), or when somebody's going to blitz you to stop the run, we can throw it. And that just makes calling a game easy."

Darnell Adams, a former Viking receiver and the brother of current PSU All-American defensive back Anthony Adams, recently joined Barnum's staff to coach the receivers. He inherits a confident group.

"We all know how talented we are in this room. We're holding each other accountable," Kelly said. "And on game day it'll show, because we're all going to be on the same page and all be doing the right things."

Viking 2022 storylines

All-American defenders  Defensive back Anthony Adams is listed on five preseason FCS All-American teams and defensive tackle VJ Malo on four. Adams, a Newberg native, is a two-time consensus All-American who has started all 35 games since arriving at PSU.

Malo (6-1, 270) had 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season, his first for the Viks.

A new QB — Dante Chachere (pronounced SASH-er-ay), a sophomore from Fresno, California in his third season at PSU, takes over at quarterback. Known more for his running ability in spot duty in 2019 and 2021, his throwing has received positive reviews during fall practices.

Newcomers to watch — Running back Andrew Van Buren (6-0, 240) is a transfer from Boise State, where he rushed for 1,028 yards and 21 touchdowns as a short-yardage back. … Senior defensive tackle EJ Ane played in 28 games at San Jose State. … Punter George Triplett is a Princeton grad from West Virginia.

Local standouts — Sophomore middle linebacker Parker McKenna from Beaverton was a freshman standout with a team-high 88 tackles. …. Senior tight end Malik Thirdgill (Central Catholic) has played in 26 games. … Senior defensive end Jake Porter (West Linn) has 69 tackles in 35 games.

September challenge — The Vikings play only three games in September, but all are challenging road games against San Jose State, Washington and Montana, picked to win the Big Sky Conference. PSU's first home game is Oct. 1 against Northern Arizona.

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