Furman linebacker Elijah McKoy (23) holds on to the shirt of Georgia State wide receiver Cornelius McCoy (83) at Georgia State Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Atlanta. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Photo: Branden Camp
Photo: Branden Camp

Georgia State’s ‘extremely unselfish’ receivers a key part of early success

Georgia State sophomore receiver Cornelius McCoy still remembers the sound advice former teammate Penny Hart gave him last season. 

During a workout session, Hart noticed some quirks in McCoy’s technique. He helped the second-year wideout work on better hand placement and releases off the ball.  

“He told me to use my hands a lot, especially with a press defensive back,” McCoy said. “He also told me to turn my shoulders and my toes when I plant to get in and out of breaks.”  

The advice stuck with McCoy all offseason. He spent hours self-reflecting and making improvements in his game. Different drills enhanced his footwork and polished his route running skills.  

“You can’t beat a defensive back without a great release on the line of scrimmage,” McCoy said. 

After being an All-Sun Belt honorable mention last season, McCoy elevated his production. He leads the Panthers (2-0) with 13 receptions, 186 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.  

McCoy leads a group of young receivers. As a unit, they have combined for 40 catches, 501 yards, and seven touchdowns this season. Six players have eclipsed 30 receiving yards, and five different players have a touchdown reception.  

“They all work hard and are an extremely unselfish group as you can see from last week (against Furman),” Panthers coach Shawn Elliott said.  

In the offense, speedster Terrance Dixon has found a streamlined role. He’s thrived against zone formations on the field with nine catches for 82 yards and one touchdown. 

Redshirt freshman Sam Pinckney provides big-play potential. The 6-foot-4 wideout is healthy after suffering a torn MCL early last season. He has eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.  

“If you put it in his area, he is going to go and make the play,” Panthers senior quarterback Dan Ellington said.  

Behind the trio, senior Devin Gentry and junior tight end Aubry Payne have made contributions as well. Payne is a red-zone target with touchdowns in consecutive games.  

“We’ve been together and hung out all the time,” Pinckney said. “We are family and brothers.”  

Several players acknowledge they are comfortable in the offense. They have developed a better rapport with Ellington in his second season under center.  

“I’ve trusted my teammates a lot more and those guys have trusted me,” Ellington said. “It’s an easier transition from Year 1 to Year 2.”  

A new playbook has also helped the process. The coaching staff added specific plays that enhance each receivers’ skill set.  

“We have the ability to run a lot of option routes and give these guys kind of freelance to go out there and get open,” Elliott said.  

In Georgia State’s stunning upset of Tennessee in the season opener, the Panthers stretched the field and averaged 12.6 yards per completion. Last week, they scored 31 second-half points in a comeback win against Furman.  

As a result, the Panthers started 2-0 for the first time in school history. 

“It’s good to see them out there making plays for us,” Ellington said. “… Having those types of weapons makes my job easier. I just got to get the ball to them.”

The Panthers hope their receivers continue to grow and develop. In school history, the program has sent three wideouts to the NFL. Former Panthers include Hart, Albert Wilson (Dolphins), and Robert Davis (Redskins).  

“Looking up to Penny (Hart), it also helped me be a great leader and great mentor to others,” McCoy said.  

The unit has another opportunity to shine Saturday at Western Michigan. They aim for retribution after losing 34-15 last season.  

“We don’t know what the future has in store for us, but we are certainly building our confidence and building our football program,” Elliott said. “I think it is evident from our 2-0 start.” 

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.