Receiver Van Chew plays big for Orange

When we wondered this offseason whether Syracuse had enough big-time playmakers at the receiver position, Van Chew got overlooked. Then again, it's easy to miss a guy his size sometimes.

The skinny junior -- he's listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, and it took some serious work in the weight room to get there -- has come up large for the Orange this season, however. He leads the team with 19 catches for 343 yards, and his 18.1 yards per catch average is tied for second best in the Big East.

"What happens a lot of times is that guys think his frame is so slight that he gets underestimated a lot," Syracuse receivers coach Rob Moore said. "And before you know it, he's got a touchdown or two on you. I imagine once we get to the Big East, he won't sneak up on a lot of people."

Surely, South Florida will be aware of him this week in the conference opener for both teams. Chew could have more easily glided under the radar before the season, as he came into 2010 with just 10 career catches for 122 yards. He credits his work on the scout team last year and in the weight room this winter and spring for developing into a top-flight wideout.

He didn't look the part when he arrived as a recruit from Manassas, Va., when he was listed at 165 pounds -- an exaggeration.

"I was really about a buck-50, maybe a buck-55," he says. "When I first got on campus, people thought I was a basketball recruit. I'd tell them, 'No, I play football.' And they just started laughing."

Chew didn't find it funny when he first started practicing and cornerbacks would jam him at the line of scrimmage and knock the lightweight freshman off his routes. He has put on about 20 pounds since then.

"I feel real good playing at 170, because I can actually push corners around and block linebackers without falling down and getting run over," he says.

Now, it's usually Chew who's running by those defenders. He had a 45-yard catch in the season opener against Akron and a 48-yarder two weeks ago versus Colgate. He hauled in seven catches for 113 yards against Maine and six balls for 83 yards at Washington.

"We try to do a lot of different things with him," Moore said. "He has excellent speed. He does a good job of being disciplined at the top of his routes, and that gives him separation. After he gets the catch, he makes turns on guy, fronts them up and sometimes make them miss."

Chew is now the veteran of a young group of Orange wideouts who have helped improve the passing game. They will face their toughest challenge yet against the Bulls, who lead the Big East in pass defense. Who knew the key might be the skinniest guy on the field?