BELLEVILLE — During pregame introductions, Althoff High football players Garland Henley, Nick Hawthorne, Luke Frazier and Keenen Young are getting shortchanged.
They are called receivers, but they do way more than that.
During a typical game, the group will catch passes, take handoffs as running backs, return kicks and/or punts and maybe run a reverse or two.
Limiting them to "receiver" is ignoring the many levels of contributions this talented group has made to the Crusaders' success.
Quarterback Eric Mertens has so many targets at his disposal that seven Althoff players have 10 or more receptions and five have caught TD passes.
"I love throwing to these guys, they're amazing," Mertens said. "They're all game-changers, they can turn any short route into a big play and they're all reliable, too."
The deep and experienced group is led by seniors Henley (32 catches, 649 yards, nine touchdowns) and Hawthorne (36 catches, 487 yards, six TDs) and Frazier (29 catches, 356 yards), a junior.
"It just depends on the defense who gets the ball," Hawthorne said. "It doesn't matter who gets the ball, as long as we're winning I'm happy. At any given time, somebody can step up with a big play."
The loss of bull-like running back Kameron Harris to graduation left the team a little thin in the backfield. Junior Dennis Jackson (892 yards, 11 TDs) has brought speed and elusiveness, but Althoff coach Ken Turner was looking for ways to more athletes involved in the offense.
As a result, Henley and Hawthorne have combined for 119 carries, 658 yards rushing and eight TDs.
"That's the difference with these kids, you can put them in the backfield and run jet (plays) with them," Turner said.
Henley's 24-yard TD run late in the third quarter Saturday in the quarterfinal win over Casey showed how dangerous he is in the open field.
"He runs through a lot of tackles like he did Saturday night and he's got one of the best pair of hands we've got on the team," Turner said.
Several times defenders had Henley squared up and they still couldn't stop him.
"Last year I don't think I had a lot of pressure on me, but I knew the team needed me more this year," Henley said. "I like to run the ball, period. When we're all playing together, it just feels good...like that's how we should be playing every game."
In the second-round win over Athens, Henley was double-covered most of the day and still caught a 41-yard touchdown pass.
But the rest of the receivers stepped up big, with Mertens utilizing seven different targets, completing 21-of-27 passes for 302 yards and two TDs.
"I enjoy the big plays, but it's more of a team thing for me," said Hawthorne, a distant cousin of former East St. Louis High All-American and University of Illinois starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne. "I don't think of what I did, I think of what everybody did to help us win.
"We're real close, closer than people think we are. We're a real tight family and we always watch out for each other."
Also catching passes this season have been Young (14 catches, 243 yards, two TDs), Michael Harris (10 catches, 147 yards), Brett Silvestri (14 catches, 139 yards, one TD), Dennis Jackson (14 catches, 115 yards, one TD) and Ryan Cannady (four catches, 75 yards).
Both Hawthorne and Henley have the speed and ability to take a quick out-pattern and turn it into a 50-yard gain.
Less than a minute after Chester took a 17-14 lead over Althoff early in the third quarter of the playoff opener, Hawthorne caught a short pass and left everyone trailing him along the sideline for a 68-yard TD.
Frazier is proud of being the fourth brother from his family to play for Althoff. He wears No. 42 in honor of older brother Tim Frazier, a former Althoff linebacker who died in a 2006 automobile accident.
"My brothers are big role models in my life," he said. "Being able to fill in their shoes at Althoff and carry on their legacy is kind of cool. They helped me a lot along the way."
Turner has coached all four Fraziers.
"(Luke) handles it well, the history of the brothers here and the great success that they all had here,' Turner said. "All the brothers were great and he's following right in their footsteps."
When Frazier missed four games with a microfracture in the femur bone near his knee, Michael Harris filled in immediately.
Frazier was hurt early in the Marion game and Harris finished the night with a career-high six catches for 118 yards. Harris -- a standout wrestler who is 5-foot-8 and just 140 pounds --also plays cornerback and is on most of Althoff's special teams.
"He's just a gutsy kid and anything you ask from him you get out of him," Turner said. "He doesn't look like he should be doing what he's doing, but his heart takes him a long way."
Young, a freshman, has been steadily taking on more responsibility. He opened eyes when he caught two TDs passes and returned a kickoff 82 yards for a third TD in Althoff's 38-14 win over Triad.
"The sky is the limit for that kid," Turner said. "He's a kid that's a matchup problem for the teams we've played and with him and Henley on the ends it's kind of tough. Adding him into this mix really made our receiving corps complete as far as the athletes we have at each spot."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.