- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It was a little more than four months ago that Malcome Kennedy caught a pass that would long be remembered by Texas A&M fans.
The then-sophomore made what was arguably the biggest reception of the season hauling in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Manziel on a corner route that gave Texas A&M a 29-17 lead over No. 1 Alabama, a lead the Aggies wouldn't relinquish, eventually upsetting the Crimson Tide 29-24.
It was a brief moment in the spotlight and one of two touchdowns on the season for Kennedy, a product of tiny Cayuga, Texas, home to a Class 1A football program in East Texas. With seniors in front of him at the inside receiver positions -- Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal -- Kennedy didn't have to shoulder a load as a go-to offensive option for the 2012 Aggies.
This year, that changes -- for Kennedy and several others -- as the Aggies have waved goodbye to three senior starters and are working in a new crop of receivers this spring.
"Well, I've got a lot of new guys out there, obviously," Texas A&M receivers coach David Beaty said Tuesday. "Lost three starters from last year and some guys that played part time are back with us. A lot of youth in there getting a lot of reps. This is valuable, valuable time. This is exactly what spring ball is for. You get to evaluate new guys, guys that haven't played a lot, so it's a good opportunity for us to get to see those guys that didn't get to play a lot last year, how they've developed, and for guys that did get to play, them moving into new roles."
The lone returnee among last year's starting receivers, 6-foot-5 Mike Evans, is a big one -- literally and figuratively. Evans led the team in receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,105), but like Kennedy, started the 2012 season without a heap of expectations on him.
His breakout year and the fact that he's the lone returning starter means those two things have changed. Expectations are elevated, both in terms of Evans' production and his role on the team.
"Mike's going to have to move into a little bit of a different role, even though he's still a young guy," Beaty said. "He's going to have to be kind of the voice of that room, him and Malcome Kennedy have to be the leaders. They have to take over for Swope and Kenric and EZ [Uzoma Nwachukwu] from last year. So it's nice to have him back, absolutely."
Kennedy said he sees Evans starting to embrace that role.
"He's been stepping up a lot," Kennedy said. "He's been talking, also Sabo [Sabian Holmes], he's been talking. Everybody's fighting for that leader position, which is good."
Evans, at least, has proven that he can play at a high level for the balance of a season. No other Texas A&M receiver has done that, but there will be plenty of eyes on Kennedy to step up with the loss of Swope, who broke several Texas A&M receiving records and was second on the team last season in catches and yards.
Beaty said so far, Kennedy appears up to the challenge.
"He's a guy that literally, from last fall, would probably be the most improved player maybe on our team, in my opinion, but definitely with my group," Beaty said. "He's a guy that is exactly what you want as a coach. He does everything right....He takes care of his business off the field and he works his rear end off. He never misses anything, he does extra, he keeps his mouth quiet and he just works. His teammates respect him as a result of that."
Other receivers getting plenty of work this spring in new roles include Holmes and Derel Walker, who are currently lining up with the first team, as well as Edward Pope and 2013 signee Ja'Quay Williams, who are running with the second-team.
There's also a wild card in the form of a tight end, 2013 signee Cameron Clear, who is opening eyes already.
"Very talented player," Beaty said of the 6-6, 270-pound Clear. "One of the largest humans I've ever seen in my life. For a guy that is that big, he moves around extremely well. He's very committed, he's an early-morning, late-night guy. Cam Clear will play a lot here and he'll have a fine career, is my [prediction]. I like that kid a lot."
As the young players and new additions get comfortable, Kennedy could be a key cog with Swope now departed. Is he up to the challenge of replacing the future NFL receiver? For now, he doesn't seem fazed by the challenge.
"To me it's not daunting at all," Kennedy said. "It's just something that happens in football. Somebody leaves and somebody always steps up. It's crazy that it can't happen immediately, while he's here. But that's just football. He's leaving, so I'll step up, definitely."
If Kennedy and a few others can meet the challenges ahead, it would go a long way toward keeping the explosive Aggies' offense rolling in 2013.