After taking a long look at Rocky Palamara, Glendale College's top receiver, most major-college scouts decided he had soft hands but cement cleats.
"He was definitely underrated," Glendale Coach Jim Sartoris said. "We thought he could play at any college on any level."
Recruiters, who winced at Palamara's 4.8-second 40-yard time, felt differently.
But his speed is deceptive.
"He takes big strides and moves smoothly so it doesn't look like he's going that fast," Sartoris said.
After a successful career at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Palamara was invited to walk on at UCLA for the 1985 season. But with 4 professional prospects ahead of him on the depth chart, Palamara figured his playing time would be limited, so he transferred to Glendale--and failed to drawn much attention from 4-year schools.
So when Palamara received a football scholarship offer from Cal State Fullerton, he seized the chance to prove himself.
And he has. In his first season, Palamara has emerged as the Titans' top receiver, catching 25 passes for 409 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"He's our salvation at wide receiver," said Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy, whose team was in a tight spot when last year's leading receiver, John Gibbs, went down with a knee injury 3 weeks ago. "He's our No. 1 guy out of necessity."
But running patterns isn't the only way the sure-handed Palamara has helped. He also holds on field-goal attempts. In a game against Pacific, Palamara latched onto a botched snap and got the ball down for a 49-yard kick, which won the game.
To hear his coaches, it seems Palamara can do no wrong. But there were times, as a redshirt freshman at UCLA, when he was thumped all over the field.
A hit delivered in practice by free safety James Washington not only jarred Palamara from his senses but served as an abrupt reminder that his high school glory days were behind him.
The brutal clinic indicated that Palamara needed a few remedial football lessons at the junior college level before he took the field with Division I players.
"(I was) some little freshman who was coming off playing good in high school and I didn't really know what competition was all about," he said. "And when I got there, it was just a rude awakening.
"You come out of high school all cocky and it just makes you smell the roses. I was only there for two quarters and I learned more than I did up to my senior year of football."
Before long, it was Palamara who was schooling defenders. He was the No. 1 career receiver at Glendale, catching 98 passes for 1,462 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2 seasons.
He was also All-Western State Conference and All-State both years.
In the 1986 Pony Bowl, which Glendale lost to Riverside, 28-10, Palamara was in his element. Despite severe pregame rains that turned the playing surface to soup, he had a Pony Bowl-record 9 catches for 109 yards. The footballs were soaked and slippery, yet he grabbed on.
The ability to find openings and pluck bullets, Palamara says, makes up for his slower routes.
"My speed is what I'm lacking but my strength would be that I catch almost every ball thrown to me," he said. "As soon as I turn the (defensive back), I know when to stop and I know when to sit so I can get open and get the ball thrown to me."
In fact, Murphy says Palamara has dropped only 1 pass in a game all year.
"Anything near him, he's going to catch," Murphy said.