SAN BERNARDINO — The receiver knows he has space. His strides are smooth and his instincts are sound. It’s practice, after all, and he only has one defender on him. This isn’t hard.
But as the ball drops down toward him, his eyes drift just a little. When it hits his fingers, he can’t hold on.
Devin Fuller may be UCLA’s most talented receiver. By his own admittance, he still has room to grow.
“I know I have good hands,” the sophomore said. “I have good hands. But I relax on the ball a lot. I think I can catch it in easy, make it look pretty.
“But I make the hard ones. That’s the thing with me. … When we get in team periods, I rarely drop anything.”
Right now, Fuller is still a relative unknown. A U.S. Army All-American out of New Jersey’s Old Tappan High, he arrived at UCLA as a quarterback — one ranked No. 3 in the country by Scout.com. When a rash of injuries hit the Bruins’ receiver corps, coaches asked him to switch over.
With no offseason prep, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound athlete logged two touchdowns and 145 yards on 20 catches. Seven of them came in the Pac-12 Championship at Stanford.
In year two, the Bruins are counting on his emergence.
“He’s a fabulous athlete,” said head coach Jim Mora, who pegged him as a breakout candidate. “The guy just has special skills. Sometimes maybe you don’t appreciate it as much because he makes it look so darn easy. He’s just effortless in the way he moves.”
After the end of fall camp, Mora was asked what felt different about the team’s second trip to Cal State San Bernardino. This year, he said, has been more focused on testing the younger players and building depth. Compared to his first year with the Bruins, he felt much more comfortable with his starters this summer.
Count Fuller among them. On one scrimmage play this week, Fuller shot out of the slot and burned the entire Bruins secondary. By the time Brett Hundley’s pass dropped into his hands, at least five yards of grass cushioned him from both the safety and linebacker.
Fuller ran another 25 yards or so, capping a 60-yard touchdown that made for one of fall camp’s most thrilling moments. Hundley took a knee and pumped his arm in celebration.
“He’s deceptively fast,” Hundley said. “You really don’t understand how fast he is until you try to guard him. I, personally, tried to run side by side. … On film, you can see him running around and getting a lot smarter.”
Fuller said it helps him most when coaches point out his errors immediately afterward. If the tips aren’t reinforced, he tends to let go of the thought and move on.
Whether he’s done that with his old position isn’t entirely clear. In the spring, UCLA worked him in as quarterback on a few Wildcat-type formations, though he ran the ball on most. He worked all fall either as a receiver or returner, but said coaches haven’t told him if those packages might return.
What does he miss most? Having the ball in his hand on every play.
“I think about it,” Fuller said. “I think about it. But at the end of the day, I know what position I’m playing now.”