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School of hard knocks (cont.)

Posted: Friday March 14, 2008 9:35AM; Updated: Friday March 14, 2008 3:00PM
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By Stewart Mandel, SI.com

"He showed some flashes of brilliance but at times was inconsistent and was somewhat overhyped," said Ducks coach Mike Bellotti. "He was a tremendous athlete who needed a lot of fundamental work in terms of his route running and control -- he had some fumble issues. As a sophomore, he settled down and did some really nice things for us. We really felt he was going to take off."

So did Colvin. He started all 12 games for an Oregon team that finished 10-2, but with the Ducks running a spread offense that often utilized three- and four-receiver sets, and with future NFL wideouts Demetrius Williams and Tim Day alongside him, Colvin finished the year with just 22 catches for 332 yards. As is often the case with such highly touted recruits, a familiar label was attached to him: Underachiever.

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"I wanted the ball all the time, and it gave me a bad rap sometimes," said Colvin. "And when I got out there, I tried too hard to produce, and that hurt me. I'd catch a screen and I felt I had to score every time. I'd end up fumbling."

Making matters worse, Colvin pulled a hamstring muscle during Holiday Bowl practices that year, touching off a recurring pattern that would plague him throughout his junior season. After starting the season strong, Colvin became increasingly less effective due to both hamstring and groin injuries, finishing his third collegiate season with more disappointing numbers: 18 catches for 121 yards.

It was no small wonder that the NFL's two major scouting services graded him as "undraftable" in their 2007 preseason editions. Little did those services know, however, that Colvin had spent the previous winter and spring working himself into the best shape of his life. Already timed as fast as a 4.37 in the 40, Colvin bench-pressed 345 pounds during winter conditioning, extremely high for a receiver. Physically, there was little question he had all the tools to be an elite receiver.

Finally, last fall, Colvin got his chance. Unfortunately, like so many other parts of his life, it got taken away from him.

*****

With the electrifying Dennis Dixon at quarterback and a new coordinator, Chip Kelly, calling the plays, Oregon's spread offense exploded during the 2007 season, and Colvin was playing a major role. After top receiver Brian Paysinger suffered a season-ending ACL injury the third week of the season, Colvin stepped in and caught eight passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in a 55-31 win at Stanford on Sept. 22, seven catches for 74 yards and a score the next week against Cal. (Unfortunately, most fans' main memory of Colvin from that game was that of him fumbling inches short of the goal line as he stretched to convert a potential last second, game-tying touchdown.)

"When Paysinger went down he really took over and was our dominant receiver," said Bellotti. "He was doing the things we always knew he could do and he knew he could do."

That is, until the Ducks' game two weeks later against Washington State, when a defender rolled into his planted leg and Colvin felt a pop. He knew immediately: His ankle was broken.

As he lay there on the field, his college career derailed for good, his NFL stock plummeting before it ever had a chance to rise, Colvin ... laughed. Bellotti had come on to the field and suggested, optimistically, that maybe his player had simply torn some scar tissue. "No coach," he said with a chuckle. "This is it."

"It brought tears to my eyes," said Bellotti. "He had persevered through a career of unmet expectations, he was finally doing what everyone thought he could do, it was so gratifying -- and then it was snatched away from him. You wonder why some elite being would heap that much on one young man."

It took everything in Colvin's power not to break down on the sideline afterward. "What the hell?" he thought to himself. "Why now?"

But that's about as long as the pity party lasted. Those who know Colvin all express the same, universal admiration as to how a person who's endured such a staggering amount of trauma in just 22 years manages to remain almost relentlessly upbeat.

"There's no character issues whatsoever," said Colvin's agent, Marvin Frazier. "This guy grew up with no mother, no father, yet stayed on the straight and narrow and has a wonderful head on his shoulder. A lot of kids would get upset at world for that, but he's stayed the course."

Such was the case again after his latest setback. Through Frazier, Colvin got hooked up with three-time Olympic sprinter and former gold medalist Dennis Mitchell, who works with a handful of draft prospects at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla.

Determined to not only recover from his injury in time for draft workouts but also reshape his body, Colvin went on a "detox" diet ("Just chicken and green beans the first two weeks," said Colvin. "You'd drive by a McDonald's and go crazy.") that cut his body-fat index in half. Meanwhile, he continued his rehabilitation and worked with a strength coach there while Mitchell put him through drills with the goal of improving his 40 time.

Mind you, he did this on the weekends, usually departing Oregon on Friday afternoon, flying five hours to Florida, working out twice a day there Saturday and Sunday, then returning to Oregon on Monday to resume his classwork. Before she passed, Colvin's mother told Lightner to make sure her son got his college degree.

"That's how serious this is to me," said Colvin. "It's a hectic schedule, but it's all worth it. I'm just looking for an opportunity to get in the NFL."

*****

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