There are so many talented receivers in UCLA’s football training camp that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone sometimes has trouble determining one from the next.
“It’s like in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’” the coach said, “when they’re being chased by those riders and keep asking, ‘Who are those guys?’”
There is one, though, who stands out from the rest of the posse.
Devin Fuller’s versatility has made him invaluable. The senior came to UCLA as a quarterback but switched to slot receiver as a freshman. He was shifted to the outside this season, a move UCLA coaches hope will allow them to exploit his big-play abilities.
Fuller has also come full circle, in a way. He has been working as a quarterback in UCLA’s wildcat formation.
“He is so explosive that we want to find ways to get the ball in his hands,” Mazzone said. “He’s going to be a guy you’ll see in a lot of different spots.”
It’s been an interesting journey for Fuller, who said, “I watch film from my freshman year and I’m like, ‘Wow, who is that person?’”
Fuller’s evolution has been impressive, but there is still work to be done.
He has accumulated 122 receptions in three seasons, leaving him on the cusp of joining UCLA’s career top 10. However, moving up the chart won’t be easy with so many receivers pushing for playing time.
“The joke in the receivers’ room is, if you get injured that might be the last time you play,” receiver Eldridge Massington said.
Earning or keeping a spot requires more than a couple of highlight-reel catches.
“A lot of guys make plays, but it’s who can stack days on top of each other and do everything right,” Massington said.
Fuller has fit that profile for three seasons — even though he came to UCLA to throw passes, not catch them.
Fuller passed for 2,247 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Demarest (N.J.) Northern Valley Regional High. He also gained 1,326 yards and scored 17 touchdowns rushing.
However, he arrived in Westwood just as the Brett Hundley era as dawning. Hundley, a quarterback now with the Green Bay Packers, set numerous UCLA records in three seasons.
But Fuller’s skills were such that coaches wanted him on the field. He moved to receiver five games into the 2012 season.
“It was one week of practice at it, then they threw me in the game,” Fuller said. “It was pure athleticism.”
Fuller has that right. He has a gliding appearance that is deceptive to fans and defensive backs, and a toughness that comes from playing quarterback in a run-oriented offense during high school.
In his first season at UCLA, he finished with 20 receptions for 145 yards in eight games, and his production has continued to climb. He had 43 receptions for 471 yards in 2013 and 59 receptions for 447 yards in 2014.
“The light really went on last year,” Coach Jim Mora said. “He has always been a really good player, but the second half of the season he took it to a new level. We’re just trying to capitalize on it.”
That led to some tinkering.
With all those catches last season, Fuller found the end zone only once — a 93-yard touchdown reception against Utah.
Moving Fuller from the slot to the outside is expected to provide him more opportunities against man-to-man coverage.
“At inside receiver, there is a lot more thinking because there are a lot more bodies to maneuver around,” Fuller said. “Outside, there is more room to run.”
During a recent practice, Fuller took a short slant pass from Josh Rosen and bolted 95 yards. All the defensive back saw was a vapor trail.
“He has come light years as a receiver,” Mazzone said.
And that’s not all. Fuller said he has kept his hand in as a quarterback, throwing outside of practice.
“I’ve got to be ready,” he said.
Said Mazzone: “This guy might be one of our better quarterbacks.”
Still, Mora wants to use Fuller judiciously. “I don’t know how much I want him to be in there at quarterback, running up inside with the big guys,” the head coach said.
On the other hand, Mora added, “He is a threat because he can throw it.”
Talk with Fuller, though, and it seems his transition is complete. His goal is to stand out in UCLA’s receivers crowd.
“Coming from my senior year of high school, I didn’t think it would happen this way,” Fuller said. “But it has set me up for success.”