The pass having already settled gently into his outstretched hands, Richard Ane tucked the football underneath his arm, steadied himself and turned upfield.
There was little running room ahead as defenders closed quickly from either side. In years past it would have been time to duck and cover.
It was time for a test drive. Might as well see if the new chassis would hold up in a collision.
Instead of trying to jitter and juke, Ane aimed himself in the direction of one of his pursuers and lowered his shoulder.
"Hey," he recalls thinking as the opponent crumpled beneath him, "this is kind of fun."
Defenders beware: Richard Ane, forever "the scrawny little guy," has hit the "big" time.
No longer will linebackers, defensive ends and muscular defensive backs kick sod in this tight end's face. An off-season of eating, weightlifting, eating and more eating has resulted in a 30-pound gain.
Ane, who played last season at about 190 pounds, now packs 222 pounds on his 6-foot, 3-inch frame.
It is not just table muscle. Ane reports a substantial increase in his maximum bench-press lift.
Whether the extra weight will similarly elevate his play on the football field won't be known until the season starts, but the early returns from CSUN's spring practice have boosted his confidence.
"Mentally, I was still thinking I was 190 and had to give it everything I had to compete," Ane said. "But being up there in weight, still fighting like I was a scrappy little 190-pound player, brought a new dimension to my game."
Ane's efforts to bulk up certainly were not lost on his teammates, who made him one of four team captains in a vote. The others are tailback Albert Fann, quarterback Sherdrick Bonner and Preston Hayslette, a two-year standout at outside linebacker.
And then there is Ane, part-time tight end and center on the special teams, who admitted to being "shocked" when the votes were tabulated.
"It caught me off guard," Ane said. "I wasn't expecting it, but it's made me work even harder. I've always had a good work ethic, but being captain I have to make sure I do the right things all the time. There's no letting things slide here or there."
Even at the dinner table.
Previously a light eater, Ane has learned to eat by the clock as opposed to his metabolism's timetable. During the summer, he stuffed himself five or six times a day between weight workouts.
"It was tough because I was forcing myself to eat," Ane said. "The way I had been most of my life was that I could eat a half a sandwich once every four or five hours and be fine."
With his new diet, the intake grew considerably while the time between meals shrunk. A typical meal consisted of two full sandwiches and some fruit. And two to three hours later, it was time to repeat the cycle.
"I was forcing myself to eat," Ane said. "A lot of times I'd have three-quarters of a sandwich left and I didn't want to finish it. But before I could talk myself out of it, I would just jam most of it in my mouth. Then I'd have to swallow it."
Ane's mother LaVaughn aided his weight-gaining binge by making double recipes. "I told her, 'When you cook dinner, just cook for three or four other people and that way I'll have a couple of meals of leftovers the next day,' "Ane said.
It was at the halfway point of last season that Ane, who will turn 24 next month, decided he would have to be substantially larger during his senior season. Try as he might, he often found himself ricocheting off bigger and stronger defenders when trying to make a block.
"He's a smart kid," CSUN Coach Bob Burt said of Ane. "He knew he was getting bounced around out there, and he decided to do something about it."
Ane, who alternates at tight end with senior Rod Shinko, is in the third phase of his football career. He played his sophomore and senior years at Saugus High, sat out a year after graduation, played two seasons at Valley College, then sat out two more seasons before walking on at CSUN last fall.
At Valley, he played tight end weighing only 175 pounds. Adams (Colo.) State offered him a scholarship after his sophomore season, but Ane decided to stay closer to home. He opened his own pool-cleaning service but quit the business soon after.
In 1987, from May to November, he worked as a firefighter for the U. S. Forest Service. It was that experience that led him back to school.
Three times he was chased up hills by flames. "It got your adrenaline going quite a bit," Ane said. "After two and a half weeks of fighting fires I decided that a life of school and football wasn't that bad."
After returning to Valley to finish his A. A. degree, Ane contacted Burt and asked for a tryout. Fortunately, the Matadors just happened to be in the market for a long-snapper.
"I just couldn't get the game of football out of my system," said Ane, whose brother Lance starts at linebacker for Colorado State.
He wound up accomplishing more than he thought possible.
"I remember putting on pads for the first time in three years and asking myself, 'Do I really want to do this?' " Ane said. "I didn't know if I still had it. I didn't know if I could still hit."
Ane ended up fourth on the team in receptions with 16 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. But he says that his added bulk will allow him to play better.
"Now that I have a little more size, I can change my game a little bit and still be a scrapper," Ane said. "I'm looking forward to it because I've seen a lot of guys in my football days who, because they have always been big, have a tendency to depend on it. They lean on their size and strength to cover up for the lack of technique or aggressiveness.
"I want to keep my little guy's attitude."