Amidst a 1-3 start to the 2023 season where the offense of the Florida Atlantic football team took on noteworthy opponents in Ohio, Clemson, and Illinois, there is one player who has stood out from the rest while showing he can compete with the best in the country: Lajohntay Wester.
Wester has provided a stable presence in FAU's receiving group since he joined the program as a freshman in 2020, averaging over 700 yards in the team's 2021 and 2022 campaigns. He even came off the latter season with a career-high in total touchdowns with nine, eight of them coming from the receiving end. Those receiving touchdowns had him come close to the program record of nine touchdowns, held by Cortez Gent, who did it twice in 2007 and 2008, and Roosevelt Bynes in 2003.
This year, he has taken a big jump in his progression as the team's primary target. Wester has made 43 receptions for 401 yards and two touchdowns throughout the Owls' first four contests, including becoming the all-time career leader in catches during the team's matchup with Clemson. He said he went into overtime during the offseason, working with FAU's strength and conditioning coach Joey Guarascio and his trainer Mike Bailey, who is the head coach of Blanche Ely High School.
"Between working out with Joey and Coach Mike, they really prepared me for this season. And now you're seeing the work is finally paying off," Wester said.
His receiving stats are off the charts not only for FAU but also at the national level. Wester leads the country in total receptions, is second in receptions per game with 10.8, and 17th in total receiving yards.
"It definitely is a blessing to be able to represent not only FAU but my last name and my family too worldwide. So it's definitely a blessing, but we just have to be humble and keep going because we're only midway through the season. The season's just now getting started for us. So we just got to stay humble and keep stacking. Everything that we want, we're gonna be able to go get," Wester said.
Only two FAU players have reached 1,000 or more receiving yards by season's end: Cortez Gent with 1,082 yards in 2007 and Harrison Bryant with 1,004 yards in 2019. Three others came just shy of the milestone: Anthony Crissinger-Hill with 999 yards in 2003, Lester Jean with 988 in 2010, and William Dukes with 979 in 2012.
If Wester maintains his average of 100 receiving yards per game for the rest of the season without suffering injuries, he would not only achieve the accomplishment but he could also find himself at the top as the all-time leader in receiving yards in a season. His 10.8 receptions per game this year is also on pace to see him as the all-time leader in total receptions and could witness him become the only Owl to reach 100 or more catches in any season.
"It's crazy. That's definitely something that I want to reach and accomplish. But right now, I'm just focused on getting the win and going 1-0 into conference play and all my personal achievements will come with that," Wester said.
The entire football staff, including head coach Tom Herman, have been impressed with Wester's dedication to his craft.
"The way he studies, the way he understands the game, obviously God blessed him with some tremendous physical abilities, but he's definitely maximizing those," Herman said.
He compared Wester's performance to the likes of Devin Duvernay, who led the nation in catches with 106 in 2019 when Herman coached him at Texas. Duvernay went on to be a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, as the two-time Pro Bowler currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
"It becomes difficult to get those guys the football when they're playing wide receiver because in the throw game, the ball goes where the defense tells you the ball goes and Illinois did a good job of double-teaming Lajohntay at times but I also thought it was a good cat and mouse with Coach Frye and he did a nice job of finding different ways to get him the ball too so that challenge is going to get harder, not easier," Herman said.
Wide receivers coach David Beaty had plenty of praise for Wester stretching back from fall camp, saying he has a chance to be one of the best players he has ever coached.
"From a skills standpoint and from a tools standpoint, he's certainly got it. Then from his want to, his coachability, and his love of the game, he's got it. He's got the tools. If he doesn't change, then he's going to play for a long time," Beaty said.
Wester expressed appreciation for the staff - namely Herman, Frye, and Beaty - for giving him the opportunity to make plays every game for the team.
"They put me in the best position as possible to make me be able to make a play to change the game for this team. And I just love this program and this system we're in that let me be able to play free and be able to just get open, and that's something I love to do," Wester said.
Heading into conference play, Wester said the team understands what is at stake with the expectations from their coaches and fans being very high. With the American being up for grabs this season as only two teams have four wins with the remaining 12 having three or less, FAU has a chance to make noise in the league and potentially clinch bowl eligibility and an appearance in the conference championship game.
"I'm kind of glad that we play those teams like Clemson, Illinois. Tough teams, they really give us a jump so we could face adversity earlier in the year," Wester said.
"Get that out of the way so we can learn who we are, fix any problems that we have, and move forward. So yeah, we're ready. We're hungry. We have a bad taste in our mouth. Ready for Tulsa this Saturday."
The Owls will host Tulsa this upcoming Saturday at Howard Schnellenberger Field on October 7th at 6:00 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.