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Fernandez Taking a Crash Course : Ex-Canadian Leaguer Hopes to Catch On to Raider Way

March 17, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Six months ago, he might have been the greatest receiver ever to play in the Canadian Football League, but now he's in El Segundo, so Mervyn Fernandez shows up at Raider headquarters in the mornings for film study and in afternoons for workouts. He does it four times a week and will until training camp, which is still three months off.

"New kid on the block," he says.

The new kid is 27 and played five years for the British Columbia Lions in Vancouver after dropping out as a sophomore at San Jose State. In his first pro season, he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year, whereupon the Raiders drafted him with a 10th-round pick.

Fernandez had been signed by John Herrera, the Lions' player-personnel director and a former Raider ball boy who has since joined the Raiders' front office. Thus they were in good position to learn Fernandez's history.

He attended junior college before going to San Jose State and was not, as generally assumed, a redshirt sophomore when he left school, but a redshirt junior, one year away from being eligible for the National Football League draft rather than two. So the Raiders stole him.

In his fourth season, Fernandez caught a record 95 passes for 1,747 yards and was voted the CFL's outstanding player. He is 6 foot 2 inches, 205 pounds, a big receiver with a reputation for being able to go deep, to go over the middle, to make the tough catch and to run with the ball afterward. Canadian writers, looking for NFL receivers to compare him to, go all the way to stars like the New York Jets' Al Toon and the Washington Redskins' Art Monk.

"He could be the greatest ever to play in Canada," said David Banks of the Province, a Vancouver newspaper. "That would be the consensus of a lot of people who have watched Canadian football for a long time."

Exactly what he is to be in the NFL won't be determined for several months. In the meantime, Fernandez fidgets.

"I wouldn't say it's scary," he said. "I'd say there's some uncertainty. I don't have that comfortable feeling I had in Canada.

"I used to watch the NFL games on TV there. I've got some friends playing ball in the NFL and they're doing all right.

"I had hoped to be here and now that I'm here, it's just like another job," Fernandez said. "I'm just learning the system, getting familiar with the players, the coaches, the way they do things. I guess it'd be like working for IBM and going to Apple. It's a whole different question. They're both professional, but it's just different."

Laughing, he added: "Because if I did feel comfortable, there's no way I'd be here in March. Just like Marcus Allen and those guys--they may pop in. There's no other way I'd be here this early, watching film, running patterns."

The Raiders are negotiating with another CFL receiver, Toronto's Chris Woods, who played at Auburn. The Raiders got his rights in the 1984 supplemental draft that everyone else thought was aimed at USFL players.

Woods is described as a burner and the Raiders are primarily interested in him as a kick returner. If the Raiders get him and if he and Fernandez were to fulfill expectations, that would probably leave room on the squad for three other receivers.

Dokie Williams is secure. Rod Barksdale and Jessie Hester would be the favorites for positions 4-5. Tim Moffett, a No. 3 pick two years ago who has done little, would be reduced to longshot status along with Mark Pattison.

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