The UCLA Football records are littered with prolific receivers. There are legendary names, fan favorites, and the current NFL group. Of course there are always the few hidden gems that surprise even the most veteran coaches.
Currently the UCLA Football receiving group is dotted with big time talent. There are big possession receivers, quick twitch slot guys and a few who have the speed to take the top off a defense. The group that typically escapes the minds of media and fans are the walk-on receivers.
The surprise of camp so far has been red-shirt junior WR Christian Pabico. Standing six feet, 190 pounds Pabico isn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest receiver on the team. That hasn’t stopped him from catching almost everything that has come his way during fall camp.
Pabico spent the last few seasons as a member of the UCLA Football scout team helping the active roster prepare for opponents but is now on the cusp of seeing major snaps on offense during the 2017 season.
So what’s changed that’s allowing Pabico to thrive in this new offense?
The obvious change is on the staff. Former WR coach Eric Yarber who is now with the Los Angeles Rams has been replaced by Jimmie Dougherty. He was brought on by new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch who put together an effective passing attack last season with the Michigan Wolverines.
Dougherty has no loyalty to players on the roster and is forcing guys that have been in the program for a few years to re-earn their roles in the offense. It seems as though Pabico has taken that challenge to heart.
One other small factor working in Pabico’s favor is some of what he was asked to do in high school shows up in the new offense. While not having blazing speed, Pabico is able to win vertically with crafty route running and subtle head fakes that get defenders to bite. He does well to find holes in zone coverage and is tough after the catch.
The best part about Pabico? He’s a strong hands catcher of the football. Something that this UCLA Football team struggled to do much of in 2016.
So then it shouldn’t be a reach when I say, potentially starting a walk-on should not be cause for concern.
Let me explain.
While some may take Pabico’s rise as an indictment of the former and current staff’s ability to develop talent they shouldn’t jump to conclusions. The previous offensive staff, especially at the wide receiver position, struggled to develop consistency with their players. That much is true. However Pabico, given a clean slate, has done what has been asked of him and been met with success. Already off to a better start with this staff.
Coaches miss as evaluators and that’s okay to say. Having ideal measurables will take you a long way in your football career but the intangibles shouldn’t be tossed to the side. While football is a game of muscle, mass and speed it is also a game of emotions. You can’t measure “want to” but you know it when you see it. “Want to” is what takes lightly recruited guys like J.J. Watt and Antonio Brown and makes them into NFL superstars.
Walk-on receivers can still make some of the biggest plays in college football. Look no further than former Clemson walk-on receiver Hunter Renfrow who made the game winning touchdown catch in last year’s national championship against Alamba. Sure that’s just one play but Renfrow ate Alabama’s lunch in that game and he’s not a very rare exception either.
You can have plenty of talent at one position and still need a guy like Pabico in your positional group to succeed. He’s the underdog, the scrappy guy, that just won’t be denied. That attitude motivates. Guys either want to be just like him or they want to show that they’re better than him. While the latter isn’t preferred it can be just as effective.
The simple fact remains, UCLA Football only benefits from Pacibo’s play. Now it’s on him to carry it into the regular season.