Wide receiver will be a strength for Texas A&M this season, especially if Jhamon Ausbon bounces back from a disappointing sophomore campaign.
Ausbon had 50 catches for 571 yards as a freshman, but instead of replacing Christian Kirk as A&M’s go-to receiver last year, Ausbon struggled with a foot injury that limited him to 31 catches for 375 yards with no touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2 Ausbon has looked better than his old self in fall practice thus far, highlighting that with ease on a one-handed catch on a deep throw Wednesday on the Coolidge Practice Fields.
“I feel amazing,” Ausbon said. “I’m healthy, thank God. I’m just happy to be out here, happy to be competing, going back and forth with the defense and just getting timing down with [quarterback] Kellen [Mond].”
Ausbon is faster than ever.
“I lost a little bit of weight, I’m 100% healthy,” Ausbon said.
He’s at 212 pounds, down nine pounds from his freshman season.
“I’m really moving better,” Ausbon said.
Ausbon played at 220 pounds last season but was challenged to slim down by head coach Jimbo Fisher and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig.
“Turns out they were right,” Ausbon said. “Which, they’re always pretty much right, but I didn’t really see it. But I’m 212, and I’m playing the best ball of my life.”
Fisher notices the difference.
“Jhamon’s been really dependable, having a really good camp so far,” Fisher said. “He’s really flashed at times and done better, doing much better. I think he’s having a really good camp.”
Ausbon watches film every day with Mond. The pair, who played their senior high school seasons at IMG Academy, has a good grasp of Fisher’s pro-style offense after 13 games and two offseasons.
“These are plays we’ve been running for two years now, so we’re getting it down to a T,” Ausbon said.
Ausbon knows where every ball will be thrown, based on the defense.
“It’s just a repetition of routes and concepts over, over and over with Kellen,” Ausbon said. “We know what he likes to do and what balls he can make and what throws he can make.”
Ausbon’s improvement off the field hasn’t been confined to conditioning.
“I’m becoming more a student of the game,” Ausbon said. “I’m older; it’s my third year. The game is really slowing down for me. My goal now is just trying to teach these young receivers what to do and work with Kellen on timing.”
Ausbon’s dip in production last season didn’t stymie the passing game as tight end Jace Sternberger led the team with 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was complemented by receivers Quartney Davis (45 receptions-585 yards, 7 TDs), Camron Buckley (34 receptions-474 yards, 1 TD) and Kendrick Rogers (27 receptions-336 yards, 5 TDs), and all three of them are returning for their junior seasons along with Ausbon.
In fall camp, the group has been playing faster, smarter and making less mistakes, Ausbon said.
“We’re an older group of guys,” he said. “We don’t have time for mistakes. There’s no excuse for making mistakes. Jimbo holds us to a high standard for knowing plays, knowing our assignments.”
Ausbon’s work ethic leads the way for the unit.
“He’s such a leader, and he’s so smart, and you can do so many different things with him,” Fisher said. “You can put him in different positions to run plays and stuff; he can learn. He’s just a natural football player.”
Ironically, Ausbon discovered how valuable he was to his teammates when he was injured.
“Something hit me in the Arkansas game when I heard the crowd,” Ausbon said. “I’m in there like down, because I broke my foot or whatever. And at that point, I realized it wasn’t about me, it was about the team because they feed off me and my energy. So I just had to go out there and act like nothing happened and pump those guys up for the rest of the season and come back and try to make the biggest impact I could on the team.”
Ausbon returned to make 16 catches in A&M’s four-game winning streak to end the 2018 season. He’s expecting bigger things this season, not only for him, but the unit, saying they could have two 1,000-yard receivers.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Ausbon said. “We know what we’re doing and we’re all healthy. The sky’s the limit for us.”
NOTES — A&M’s annual Fan Appreciation Day will be Sunday from noon-2 p.m. in the Gilliam Indoor Track Complex. … Former A&M head football coach R.C. Slocum, special advisor to A&M president Michael K. Young, attended Wednesday’s practice. Slocum, a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, was the acting athletic director after Scott Woodward was hired at LSU until Ross Bjork took over July 8. Bjork, who came from Ole Miss, also was at practice Wednesday. … High school football officials working Wednesday’s practice included Rick Hall, director of Texas A&M’s Department of Recreation Sports.