<
>

From humble start, Iglesias blossoms into top OU receiver

1/5/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

MIAMI -- Early in his career, Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias wasn't sure he belonged with the Sooners.

Recruited almost as an afterthought after a high-school career where he was known primarily for his basketball and track accomplishments, Iglesias struggled early to get the concepts of the Sooners' passing game down after his arrival.

"I didn't think I would play at all when I first got there," Iglesias said. "Going from catching a lot of balls in high school to not playing is hard. I was trying to prepare myself for that transformation after I was here for a few weeks."

But instead of moping, Iglesias redoubled his efforts on the practice, catching his coaches' attention by doing the little things.

From those humble origins, Iglesias has developed into one of the most prolific receivers in Oklahoma history. And he's never forgotten how far he has come from those early days when he felt fortunate to even be playing with the Sooners.

Iglesias will conclude his career Thursday night playing in the biggest football game of the season as the Sooners meet Florida in the FedEx BCS National Championship Game.

"The difference between back then and now is like night and day," Iglesias said Monday as he soaked up the atmosphere at Dolphin Stadium during a team media function. "I was sure I was never going to play for the few months I was here. Now, playing in a stadium like this in a game like this is something you dream about.

"A lot of kids play this game and never get a chance like I'm getting. I'm playing for them and for my family."

The Big 12's deep collection of receiving talent has caused Iglesias to sometimes become lost in the shuffle. Especially this season, when the conference was the home to all three Biletnikoff Award finalists -- Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant.

But Iglesias was nearly as proficient this season, producing 69 receptions for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns. It was the second-most catches in Oklahoma history as Iglesias became only the third Sooner to top 1,000 yards. He holds two of the top three seasons in Sooner history for receptions, trailing only Mark Clayton's record of 221 catches from 2001-04.

When Manny Johnson went down early in the Kansas game with an elbow injury, Iglesias stepped up to produce a school single-game record 12 receptions for 191 yards.

His development has mirrored the growth of quarterback Sam Bradford. The two players often worked during the summer and after practice the last two seasons to work on their timing running hundreds of his pass patterns.

That work has allowed them to bond in a connection that Bradford said is closer than he shares with any other teammate.

"I do have confidence in Juaquin and I definitely know where he's going to be on every play," Bradford said. "If something is funky and I'm not sure what's going on with the defense, most of the time I just look for him."

Oklahoma's collection of receiving threats has kept opposing defenses honest all season. The Sooners feature a deep cast with six receivers with at least 27 catches this season. Five of those players have averaged at least 15 yards per catch.

"I very rarely ever see double coverage," Iglesias said. "Having all those players helps us out a lot. It's good to have a lot of people so they have to worry about a lot of things."

But Iglesias' development has particularly thrilled the Sooners' coaches over the years. They outrecruited UTEP for him as no other Big 12 players were interested after a limited football career at Killeen (Texas) High School. He was more widely known after averaging 17 points per game in basketball and being an accomplished runner in the 400, 800 and 1,600 relays.

The Sooners got interested in him late in recruiting and have seen him transformed once he came to college because of his work ethic.

"I kid with the Price Brothers at UTEP (former UTEP assistant coach Eric Price and current UTEP assistant Aaron Price) about Juaquin," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. "They say 'There's that guy you stole from us.' Not that Juaquin wasn't a good player, but he was falling through the cracks. We got lucky and found a guy who has really helped us."

Iglesias will also inherit another role in Thursday's game as he becomes the Sooners' primary kickoff returner after the injury to DeMarco Murray. Iglesias set a school record with 826 kickoff return yards last season, but saw Murray inherit the featured return role this season.

"I'm really excited about getting my chance at that again," Iglesias said. "It's always fun when you have the ball in your hands."

Even if he wasn't sure he'd ever get that opportunity earlier in his college career.