Keke Coutee has a goal for his 2017 season that sounds nearly impossible.
The junior wide receiver arrived on the goal thanks to all the times he’s walked past the wall in Texas Tech’s football facility that highlights the program’s individual offensive records. He glanced at them on his way to workouts and practices. He took notice.
“My top goal right now,” Coutee said, “is to break Michael Crabtree’s record of 22 touchdowns in a season. I set my goal kind of high this year.”
“You see, Crabtree and he won the Biletnikoff two years in a row,” Coutee said. “For me, I want to be the best. I decided I want to be remembered when I leave here.”
He’s playing in the right offense to chase that school record. No team threw it around more than Texas Tech last season, at more than 54 attempts per game. Coutee quietly enjoyed a breakthrough season as a sophomore in 2016, producing 890 receiving yards and seven TDs on 55 catches, with four 100-yard games. Only Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook put up more receiving yardage during Big 12 play. Bigger things are ahead for the 5-foot-11 speedster.
At the same time, this Red Raiders offense has too many good wideouts for one guy to get 22 scores. Coutee, Jonathan Giles, Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson and Derrick Willies combined for 3,665 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns last fall. And they’re all back for more.
The way Texas Tech spreads it around, any of those five could end up being the team’s leading receiver by season’s end.
“Any one of them can really have a big day on any given day, based on coverage and what we’re getting offensively,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Keke is definitely a guy we’re going to try to push the ball to more this year with his ability. But this is a very solid receiving corps. Any one of them can hurt you if you’re trying to take away somebody else.”
The last time the Red Raiders took the field, it was Coutee’s day. He burned Baylor for 221 yards on eight catches in a 54-35 victory, highlighted by a 35-yard touchdown grab he hauled in like an outfielder and an 80-yard spinning catch and run for another score.
“It’s a perfect offense for me. I couldn’t play in a better offense,” Coutee said. “We’ve been the best offense in the nation two years in a row. For a small guy like me to be able to run around and make guys miss, this is the perfect offense.”
Coutee is grateful he found the right fit in Lubbock. Back in the summer of 2013, before he’d even played his junior season at Lufkin High School, Coutee made an early commitment to Mack Brown at a Texas summer camp. The coaches there told him he’d be a cornerback in college. With his speed and ball skills, that might not have been a bad idea.
But when Brown and his coaches departed months later, Coutee wasn’t interested in playing for a different Texas coach and Charlie Strong’s staff wasn’t interested in taking Coutee.
“I committed there for Mack 100 percent, and once Charlie Strong came in, I didn’t have any relationship with that staff so I didn’t want to be a part of that,” he said. “I looked at it like it was over with, and the scholarship was probably taken away at that point. So I just kept weighing my options.”
He reopened his recruitment and went with Texas Tech over Oklahoma and Louisville, opting to team up with fellow East Texas natives Cantrell and Patrick Mahomes II. Kingsbury said Coutee’s biggest challenge early on was putting on weight and maintaining it. The speed and pass-catching always came easy, but the 180-pound Coutee needed more muscle to break out in the Big 12.
“We moved him around last year in different spots and we’ll be more consistent where we have him this year,” Kingsbury said. “I expect that comfort level to take his game to that next step.”
Coutee admits he kept a close eye on his stats throughout last season. He says he’s more mature now. He doesn’t plan to make the numbers his focus. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact he has some serious statistical aspirations for 2017.
“I came on a little bit at the end. I came on pretty strong,” Coutee said. “Now that I understand how things go, I think I’m up for a pretty big year.”