When it comes to catching footballs, Curtis Marsh has learned not to waste opportunities.
The Utah wide receiver, who played only three games in high school before excelling at Moorpark College, is catching nearly everything thrown his way.
In four games, Marsh has caught 19 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns. He ranks third in the Western Athletic Conference in receiving yardage per game (71.7) and fifth in receptions per game (4.7).
Even when opportunities do not seem apparent, Marsh creates them.
In the first quarter of last week's game against Wyoming, a defensive back tried to jam the 6-foot-2, 209-pound receiver from Simi Valley. Marsh stutter-stepped to the outside, sprinted upfield and hauled in a 43-yard touchdown pass from Mike McCoy to open the scoring in a 41-7 rout.
"Once I got past that cornerback, all I had to do was beat the free safety," Marsh said. "It was a matter of whoever had the wheels would win the race."
That would be Marsh. When he enrolled at Moorpark in 1990, he had very little football experience, but offensive coordinator Will Thurston was bowled over by Marsh's athletic talent.
"We timed him in the 40 and he ran a legit 4.4," Thurston said. "I heard he ran a 4.3 weighing 230 (pounds) at the NFL combine last spring. I remember how we found out about him. (Coach Jim Bittner) got a phone call about a guy slam-dunking in the park. The guy on the phone said Curtis had great hands.
"The kid was phenomenal his sophomore year with us. But he was still very green as far as being a receiver. He didn't like to go over the middle."
Marsh had 48 receptions for 1,030 yards and 11 touchdowns at Moorpark in 1991. He accepted a scholarship to Utah and redshirted in 1992. Marsh had big plans for 1993, beginning the season No. 2 on the depth chart. But he was sidelined for the first four games because of a ruptured Achilles' tendon and he never got on track.
"Last year was complete misery," Marsh said. "I dropped eight balls and I only caught 10. I was out of rhythm and I was trying to make big things happen and make up for what I missed."
Marsh almost missed football completely in high school. He transferred from Royal to Simi Valley, where his eligibility wasn't cleared until only three weeks remained in the season.
Now he makes the most of every reception. In Utah's 34-16 victory at Oregon two weeks ago, Marsh caught nine passes for 82 yards. He didn't score and picked up only three first downs. On most receptions, he was instantly met by a defensive back.
"If I get a catch for 10 yards or if I have to block, that's OK as long as we win," he said. "But I'm still the deep threat on this team."
He showed that against Wyoming. He had two receptions and both went for touchdowns: a 43-yarder in the first quarter and 42-yarder in the fourth.
On the second scoring play, Marsh was covered well on a fly pattern, but McCoy threw to him anyway. Marsh cut inside the safety at the last second, caught the pass on his chest at the nine-yard line and high-stepped into the end zone.
"I'm having fun now just having the opportunity to show what Curtis Marsh can do," he said. "I can make big plays, acrobatic-type plays."
Around the country: Fresno State sophomore wide receiver Brian Roberson (Sylmar) has 16 receptions and averages 19.9 yards a catch. He had three receptions in the Bulldogs' 31-16 victory over Hawaii last week. His 29-yard touchdown reception on the team's second drive of the second half gave Fresno State a 24-9 lead. . . . Senior free safety Lance Thomas (Crespi/Moorpark College) leads the Bulldogs with two interceptions.
Freshman quarterback Leon Blunt (San Fernando) took three snaps in relief of Ron Powlus and injured an ankle in Notre Dame's 39-21 victory over Purdue. . . . Colorado senior tight end Christian Fauria (Crespi) didn't make the big catch to beat Michigan but his seven receptions for 43 yards moved him to seventh on the Buffaloes' all-time list. He needs 17 receptions to become the school's reception leader at tight end.
USC junior fullback Terry Barnum (Alemany) had only one yard in one carry in his first start at fullback, but he caught six passes for 77 yards. His 52-yard reception from Rob Johnson in the first quarter put the Trojans in position to score the touchdown that put them in front for good.