A year ago, James Sheehan was an afterthought as a tight end in the Eastern Illinois offense. His 13 receptions in 11 games ranked fifth on the team.
A year later, Sheehan is making a name for himself as a go-to target for the Panthers (1-4), especially over the past three weeks.
A junior from Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Sheehan has 24 catches for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both scores came last weekend against Tennessee Tech, along with seven catches for 79 yards.
“He really understands pass routes and how to get open,” Eastern head coach Kim Dameron said. “This (Air Raid) offense has set him up to do that. He’s a tough, scrappy kid who catches anything in sight.”
In the season's first two games, Sheehan had only three combined catches. But his 21 catches and 213 yards over the past three weeks is second only to Alexander Hollins, the team’s leading receiver, over that stretch.
Sheehan has helped the Panthers thanks to his versatility.
“He’s a tough matchup in the middle of the field,” Dameron said. “We can put him in the backfield. We can put him out (wide). That makes it tough on defenses. He’s very smart, so we can put a lot on him assignment-wise.”
Because of his physical style, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Sheehan has made an impression on EIU’s coaches.
“He could actually play linebacker for us if we needed him to,” Dameron said. “He’s a physical kid who is a really good football player.”
At halftime of Saturday's Ohio Valley Conference game against Murray State (1-3) in Charleston, former EIU linebacker Jeff Mills (1986-89) will be inducted into the EIU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Three key matchups
- EIU ground game vs. Murray defense: The Panthers have two key weapons in Isaiah Johnson (6.8 yards a carry) and Jamal Scott (6.0) against a Murray team that has allowed 12 rushing TDs and 4.5 yards per carry.
- LB Quincy Williams vs. EIU O-line: Murray’s senior linebacker leads the team with 38 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. The Panthers must contain his impact on their offense.
- WR Alexander Hollins vs. Murray secondary: The Racers have allowed the second-fewest passing TDs in the OVC this season (seven). But Hollins has been on a tear, leading the nation with nine TD catches and ranking second in receiving yards (601).
Murray State at Eastern Illinois, 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 6. Game will air on ESPN-Plus.