Despite logging some of the best receiving numbers at the prep level throughout the state of Michigan, Cotter believes he’s just one part in a perfect storm that has put the Bucs on the verge of breaking at least 11 individual or team school records in several offensive categories.
They’ll have a chance to add to those lofty totals on Friday, as Grand Haven hosts O-K Red Conference rival West Ottawa in the regular season finale. A victory would likely ensure the Bucs (7-1 overall) a home game in the Division 1 playoffs the following Friday.
“I knew this team would have a chance to have a lot of success and make the playoffs, but all the individual stats, I didn’t know about that,” Cotter said before the Bucs’ practice on Tuesday. “It’s really just a tribute to all my teammates and all the hard work we’ve put in this season.”
If the Bucs’ offensive machine is a collection of parts, a good place to start is at quarterback, where senior Scott Staal has flourished. He developed an early cohesiveness with Cotter and the rest of the Bucs’ receivers through dedicated summer workouts, and it’s carried over to the fall.
“We’d not only be practicing with our coaches, but get together just with the quarterbacks and receivers on our own time,” Cotter said. “The passing camps also helped. The more reps you can get in during the summer, the better the timing is between the quarterback and wide receiver.”
In his first season as starter, Staal has broke the school record for passing yards in a season (1,885) and passing touchdowns (19).
“Scott is on the money every time,” Cotter said. “It makes the receiver’s job so much easier.”
But Staal wouldn’t have time to stand tall in the pocket and deliver accurate throws without a solid offensive line, which may be the surprise success story of the fall. Having to replace three starters from a year ago, the Bucs haven’t missed a beat with the Torrey Appel and Matt Mulcahy as returning starters along with Norris Ellis, Mike Ginocchio and CJ Moll. A dedicated weight training program combined with the guidance of offensive line coach Mike Wilford has helped the unit gel quickly.
The opposition cannot sit back in nickel or dime packages to try to shut down the Bucs’ passing attack because of Grand Haven’s equally dangerous run game, led by explosive backs Dakota Smith and Devin Howard. Having already gained 1,115 yards this fall, Smith is 174 yards shy of Grand Haven’s single-season rushing record and also one touchdown away from tying Russ Rescorla’s record of 18 rushing touchdowns.
Opposing defenses also cannot put nine defenders in the box, either, because Grand Haven is capable of hurting teams in three- or four-receiver sets in its spread offense.
“My good stats this year speaks more about the team than just myself,” Cotter said. “We’ve got a really good group of receivers which helps draw the defenses to them and open things up. Guys like Matt (Kroll), Jeremy (Lattig), and Alex (Eidson) are a great combination.”
The masterminds in the operation are the Bucs’ coaches, including head coach Mike Farley and offensive coordinator Dave Larkin. Cotter especially heaps praise on Larkin, saying he always has a scheme in mind offensively to counter attack any opposing defense.
ALL ABOUT NO. 6
Even though he wasn’t a standout a year ago, Farley knew he had a talented receiver on his hands with No. 6 on his roster, the slender 6-foot-2 Cotter.
“We knew he was going to be really good,” Farley said. “Last year it was just a case of him sharing the spotlight with guys like Alec Smith.
“But Danny is a talented kid. He’s probably the best route runner I’ve had since I’ve been in coaching. He runs precision routes, he catches the ball away from his body and he has enough athleticism to get up in the air and grab it. Plus, he’s a 4.0 grade point student. That carries over to the football field. It takes real smarts to know how to continuously get open.”
Cotter said being lower on the depth chart last season under players like Smith and Mike Moorehead was invaluable to his development.
“The more you watch guys who know what they’re doing and the more you see it done right, the more it helps you become a better player,” Cotter said.
Once an understudy, Cotter’s is now a teacher as far as production on the football field.
His 53 catches this season is 20 more than Smith’s runner-up total in the Grand Haven record book. Cotter is just 63 yards away from becoming the first Buccaneer ever to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and his 13 receiving touchdowns this fall are nearly double the previous record held by Smith.
If anything, his success may seem unlikely because Cotter said he believes he’s the first one from his family to play football. His father, Tom, attended the same high school as Barry Bonds and Tom Brady in Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., but instead of football, played rugby.
“Him and my mom (Mary Carole) have always supported me along the way in anything I’ve done,” Cotter said.
He laughs at his earliest athletic endeavor, when he tried out for the Tri-Cities Strikers soccer team in third grade.
“I was cut and put on the ‘B’ team,” he said. “So instead, I decided to focus on football and other sports.”
A true three-sport standout, Cotter will be counted on as a shooting guard on the Bucs’ basketball team this winter, and in the spring, he’s an outfielder and pitcher on the baseball squad.
But the gridiron is where Cotter’s future calling may lie. Farley believes he could see some scholarship interest from the Division 2 level following this season, and if so, it would stand as a tremendous reward for Cotter’s years of dedication, hard work and humility.
“I’ve been a receiver since like sixth grade,” Cotter said. “The more reps I get the more natural it becomes.”