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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
|Stephen Mally/Icon SMI|
|A new workout routine has helped receiver Jeff Fuller and his teammates bond.|
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Rising before the sun for practice this spring brought out determination that Jeff Fuller never knew he had.
Whether it was running sprints in the steamy early-morning conditions or merely becomeing accustomed to waking before daybreak, the Texas A&M sophomore wide receiver and his teammates were challenged by coach Mike Sherman's intense regimen that was meant to develop toughness and accountability.
"We grew a lot together as a team, going through those 6 a.m. workouts" Fuller said. "It was a grind -- the hardest thing any of us has ever done. But we built some solid chemistry for the season."
The early wake-ups must have especially agreed with Fuller, whose development this spring was one of the Aggies' major spring storylines. During the course of practice over the last part of the spring, Fuller was transformed into A&M's top offensive weapon.
A&M didn't have a defensive player who could stick with Fuller, who was the standout of the spring game with nine receptions for 147 yards. The fast, powerful receiver looked like the second coming of Jerry Rice as he sliced through the Aggies' secondary in the spring game, continuing a trend he had shown throughout practice.
"Jeff is really good," A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson said. "He has a lot of range, really big hands and catches the ball well. I'm developing a lot of confidence in working with him and you're starting to see the results."
Johnson provided big numbers last season but could be primed for even bigger things with Fuller's improvement and those of the other A&M receivers.
"Last year, we were good at times, but this spring we really developed a continuity and got on the same page a lot," Johnson said about his receiving corps led by Fuller. "I think the quarterbacks and receivers really worked out well throughout the spring."
That worked started even before spring practice when Johnson frequently called Fuller for extra passing work.
"Even before we started, Jerrod would call me at random times and tell me we need to do some work," Fuller said. "It's obvious that it has come out for the better after you've seen we've been able to do this spring."
Fuller, the son of former A&M standout defensive back Jeff Fuller, was the key recruit in Sherman's first incoming class. He then lived up to those expectations by producing 50 receptions for 630 yards and a school-record nine touchdowns last season in his freshman season.
Grouped with Ryan Tannehill, the duo emerged by producing the top two freshman receiving seasons statistically in school history.
But with Tannehill injured for most of the spring and potentially headed to a move to quarterback in the future, the Aggies concentrated on developing the 6-foot-4, 209-pound Fuller as their top receiving threat this spring.
"We've got some guys on this team who are really good," Fuller said. "I want to become a better, more talented player. Everybody has their own personal goals, but I just want to become more complete and continue to improve."
Fuller's big finish in Saturday's spring game was a marked transformation from his struggles earlier in spring practice as he became accustomed to his role as the top receiving target.
"It's all about going through your progressions and being comfortable with them," Fuller said. "I busted a few plays and had a really rough practice on the Thursday practice before the spring game. I came out and felt like I had something to prove. It really came down to just coming out and having a good time."
That strong early showing will be a start as the Aggies try to improve from last season's 4-8 record that dropped them into a share of the Big 12 South Division cellar for the first time in school history.
If the Aggies are to make their first bowl appearance since 2007, Fuller will be a big part of it.
Big 12 cornerbacks should consider themselves suitably warned. His strong spring work has helped him develop confidence that no defensive back in the conference can stick with him in pass coverage.
"You have to have an attitude like that," Fuller said, "I feel like nobody can guard me."
Even if it's in a practice before daylight.