Now serving: No. 4.
The wait is over for Terrence Austin. Overshadowed the last two seasons as a receiver for the Long Beach Poly football team, he's next in line to be the team's main target and most valued commodity for college recruiters.
And some believe he could emerge as the best of the recent corps.
Austin, a senior who wears jersey No. 4, was the third receiver two years ago behind Derrick Jones and DeSean Jackson. After Jones left for USC, Austin spent last season playing alongside Jackson, who led the Jackrabbits to the Southern Section Division I title, was selected The Times' player of the year and signed with California.
Though he caught only 12 passes as a sophomore, Austin had 39 receptions for 648 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Austin didn't let his down time go to waste. He studied both receivers and peppered them with questions.
Jackson, in particular, taught Austin such nuances as slipping past the line of scrimmage against tight coverage and effectively changing speeds on a stop-and-go route.
"I basically modeled myself after them," Austin said. "I learned their tricks of the trade."
Like Jones, a state champion in the 200 meters his senior year, and Jackson, a highly touted baseball player, Austin is also a two-sport standout.
He won a Southern Section Division I title in the high jump last spring and reached the state finals for the second consecutive year. He also qualified for the Masters meet in the 110-meter high hurdles and long jump.
Austin, at 6 feet and 170 pounds, is similar in size to Jones and Jackson though a step slower, said Poly Coach Raul Lara. He's more physical, however, and runs more precise routes.
"He's probably the strongest of the three," Lara said. "What I mean by that is, he's better at breaking tackles."
A prime example came last season in a 39-15 victory over Anaheim Esperanza in a Division I semifinal playoff game. After the Jackrabbits intercepted a pass at their 35-yard line with seven seconds left in the first half, Austin caught a short pass, broke two tackles and sped down the sideline for a touchdown, giving Poly a commanding 28-7 halftime lead.
Esperanza Coach Bill Pendleton said he remembered the play but wasn't sure who scored. Like most opposing coaches, Pendleton had difficulty matching names with Poly's numerous offensive weapons.
"They're like stamped out of a mold," he said.
In addition to Austin, the Jackrabbits also return senior receiver Travon Patterson, who caught 26 passes for 612 yards and three touchdowns last season. A solid group of junior receivers should also push for playing time, Lara said.
"It's the second or third guys that always get you," said Lakewood Coach Mike Christensen, whose team plays in the Moore League with the Jackrabbits. "If you take away [Austin], there will always be someone else there waiting."
Jones and Jackson have gone in different directions since leaving Poly. Jones was an academic casualty at USC before he signed with Oregon in February, but he is again academically ineligible. Jackson, on the other hand, has been better than advertised since beginning practice with the Golden Bears in early August, making one acrobatic catch after another.
Lara said Austin is in good shape to qualify for his school of choice.
"He's a pretty impressive kid," Lara said. "Academically, he's right on top of things."
UCLA and Notre Dame are among the schools that have offered Austin a scholarship, Lara said. Jones and Jackson had cinched more offers at this point of their high school careers, but Lara expects Austin's opportunities to swell as he gets more chances to display his skills.
"Terrence has had to wait patiently for his turn," Lara said. "Now, it's his time to shine."
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