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UCLA's Devin Fuller finds the right position on the receiving end

Fuller came to UCLA as an elite prospect at quarterback, but Brett Hundley got the job. His tenacity impressed coaches, and he has the potential to be one of the top inside receivers in the country.

August 18, 2013|Helene Elliott
  • UCLA's Devin Fuller has a passion for playing quarterback, but understands he can be more valuable for the Bruins at receiver.
UCLA's Devin Fuller has a passion for playing quarterback, but understands… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Devin Fuller's vision was clear.

Though he was a standout sprinter and excellent defensive back in high school, he saw his future unfolding at quarterback, where he loved to use his instincts to pick defenses apart. His spectacular career at Northern Valley Regional High in New Jersey made him an elite prospect and good match for the aggressive, up-tempo offense UCLA Coach Jim Mora planned to install.

"I was set," Fuller said. "My dream of quarterback was coming to reality, coming to college and playing. Then that was short-lived."

His dream faltered when Brett Hundley seized the starting job, but it wasn't extinguished. Mora saw Fuller working with the scout team, on which his job was to give the Bruins' defense looks at what their next opponent might throw at them, and what he saw inspired him to somehow get Fuller into the lineup.

"No one could stop him. If he was at running back, we couldn't tackle him. If he was at quarterback, we couldn't get to him. If he was a receiver, we couldn't cover him," Mora said.

"I talked to him and I talked to his dad and I said, 'Hey, would you think about playing receiver?' And he said, 'Look, whatever I can do to help the team, that's what I'll do. But I would like to still have a chance to compete at quarterback.' "

After dropping the first pass thrown to him in his first game, against California on Oct. 6, Fuller made 20 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Mora planned to have Fuller compete at quarterback in spring practice but said Fuller chose to remain a receiver, a decision that might prove pivotal for the Bruins' fortunes.

Based on his progress last spring and in camp, Fuller appears poised for a big season in a deep receivers corps that also features senior Shaquelle Evans and sophomores Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien. So smooth that he seems to be gliding on skates, Fuller will start at the slot and will get kickoff and punt return duty.

"He has big-time ability and big-time potential," Mora said. "He can be a really, really, really great player at this level and the next."

Fuller, whose father, Bart, played safety at Texas Christian, acknowledged he had difficulty making the switch. For one thing, he was unfamiliar with the nuances of running routes.

"I didn't know anything about it. I just knew how to throw it," he said.

But after removing emotion from the equation, he realized that being 6 feet tall — three inches shorter than Hundley — made him a better candidate for receiver than a pro-style quarterback. He's now committed to learning the fine points of his new position and making a difference in a program that's on an upswing.

"It was hard to give up that dream at first, but I guess the coaches had a bigger plan in mind for me and I didn't see that, at that point," he said. "I see it now."

If he has changed his tune, he comes by that as naturally as he gets his athleticism.

Fuller's mother, Cindy Mizelle, is a lush-voiced singer who has provided backup vocals for such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Luther Vandross, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Mizelle was interviewed in the recent acclaimed documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom," which illuminates the stories of singers who stand beyond the spotlight while supporting headlining acts.

"People have said she's one of the best backup singers out there," Fuller said proudly.

His own singing, he said, occurs in the shower. That's fine. It's on the field where UCLA needs him to produce sweet harmonies with Hundley.

"We think he has a chance to be one of the top inside receivers in the country," said offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who compared Fuller to quarterback-turned-receiver Anquan Boldin of the San Francisco 49ers.

"He's got great speed. He played quarterback most of his life, so he understands the game. He gets that part of it. He's got really good ball skills. Nothing rattles him. He's a pretty levelheaded kid. I really like him. He's going to be a really good player for us."

Just not at quarterback, though wide receivers coach Eric Yarber said Fuller might be involved in wildcat quarterback plays.

"He's going to do a lot of our fly motions. He has a lot of speed that he can get down the field, so you'll see him on short, intermediate and deep routes. All over the place," Yarber said.

It's a lot to take in. But Fuller seems capable of handling it.

"I'm still in the sponge period where I'm soaking up a lot of information because I've played receiver for only eight months," he said. "I'm still learning, still a student of the game, but at the same time learning my own craft while picking up little things from everyone, like our receivers, on our team. Shaq, Jordan, Devin — they're all great at what they do."

His athleticism and smarts are giving him a chance to reshape his old dreams into something new.

"I am happy," he said, "but I'm always going to have quarterback in my mind."

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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