CHARLESTON – At least in numbers, the progress can't be the same.
After going from five receptions as a seldom-used Eastern Illinois sophomore to 85 as junior stepping into limelight, Adam Drake couldn't possibly make that same 80-additional-catches leap this football season.
With record-setting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo now in the New England Patriots preseason camp as a second-round draft pick and last year's EIU coach Dino Babers taking his record-setting sprint-style offense to Bowling Green, who knows if Drake can even match last year's statistics that made him a Football Championship Subdivision third-team All-American.
That's not what the former Charleston star is talking about heading into his college finale in his own hometown.
“All I could say to top last year is a for the team to win a national championship,” Drake said. “What numbers I have with that, I'll be fine.”
While plenty of college football players probably use that line in August, that talk at EIU's media day Saturday at O'Brien Field may not be so far-fetched with plenty of standouts returning from a 12-2 season that included going 8-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference before losing an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinal to eventual runner-up Towson.
“The summer has gone really well,” Drake said. “(Strength and conditioning) coach Riley (Allen) has done a good job job getting us ready. Now going into camp things are starting to mesh well.”
The meshing includes getting to know a new starting quarterback whether it is former New Mexico State starter Andrew Manley, who transferred last year to be Garoppolo's understudy, or Jalen Whitlow, who transferred this summer from Kentucky.
Adjustments also are to the third coaching staff in Drake's time at EIU with Kim Dameron taking over as head coach and Greg Stevens as offensive coordinator with what is still called an uptempo offense but not the same as Babers' Baylor-style system.
So to say the Panthers after leading the nation's FCS teams averaging 48.2 points and 589.5 yards per game have not missed a beat in the off-season would probably be overly optimistic.
Saying they cannot get to the same point by game time is another matter.
“At camp last year at this time we weren't ready to put up those numbers,” Drake said.
Drake contributed to those numbers with his 85 catches for 1,305 yards, both ranking third on EIU's season record list, and 13 touchdowns the fourth most by a Panther receiver in one year.
At that, Drake played second-fiddle to the top receiver in EIU and Ohio Valley Conference history Erik Lora, who had 123 catches for 1,544 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior on his way to a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings.
Third in the OVC and eighth among the nation's FCS receivers in catches a year ago, Drake is now the top returning receiver in the league.
Still, the 6-foot-2, 199-pounder is looking for progress.
“Numbers wise no,” Drake said of goals individual goals for this year, “but I want to get out of the blocks faster and learn the defense so I'll run my routes better.”
That has his immediate attention gearing for EIU's Aug. 28 opener at Minnesota.
Of course it's a goal to win a national championship,” Drake said, “but there's goals along the way – having a good camp and beating Minnesota.”