By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Stanford junior wide receiver Devon Cajuste rarely watches television, let alone college football games. Growing up in Seaford, N.Y., it was easy enough to skip over Stanford games.
Cajuste knew what he wanted, though, when it came time to commit to college. His only serious decision was between Harvard and Stanford, and Cardinal coach David Shaw promised to give him a chance at wide receiver.
Every other school who approached Cajuste wanted him as a tight end. At an imposiing 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, he would have fit right in.
Cajuste did not want to just "fit in." Instead, he wanted to stand out, which he does as a wide receiver.
Cajuste will be the starting wide receiver for the fifth-ranked Cardinal (1-0), when it takes on host Army (1-1) at West Point's Miche Stadium on Saturday at 9 a.m.
"Of all the schools who offered, Stanford was the only one willing to give me a chance at wide receiver," Cajuste said. "My dad always said not to let anybody tell what I could not do. I wanted to try the position."
Stanford has a history of giving under-sized (Ken Margerum, Troy Walters) and unconventional (Greg Camarillo, Ryan Whalen) athletes a chance at wide receiver. It has paid off for the Cardinal.
Cajuste, who caught his first career touchdown pass in Stanford's 34-13 victory over San Jose State last Saturday, seems to be the latest of the series even though he's bigger than his predecessors.
"He's a freak athlete," Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney said. "Unfortunately he got hurt early in his freshman year. It was inspiring just to watch him work his way back."
He caught one pass for seven yards as a sophomore and then caught three passes for 64 yards, including a 40-yard scoring reception, in the win over the Spartans.
"You have to take steps," Cajuste said of earning his starting spot. "At first I wanted to be the scout team Player of the Week, then I wanted to play. Catching my first touchdown pass was the latest goal. I haven't thought about the next one yet."
Maybe he could think up a way of keeping the football following his next touchdown pass. He thought about it last week but erred on the side of caution.
He described the catch as "a normal catch in practice with Kevin Hogan. I wasn't nervous because I had practice that catch a million times. Why over think it?"
Cajuste knew he could be playing an important role this season and took it as an opportunity. He had been working toward this most of his football life.
"My sense of confidence went up," Cajuste said. "I knew I would play a key role and the idea was to have fun. Game day meant the same composure as practice. I trusted in Kevin to get me the ball and he trusted in me to catch it. It's very comfortable."
His father, Gregory, served in the Marines. He has a sister who served in the army. He knew he could trust what his father told him and developed a love for running because of him.
"For a while my dad could beat my dog ("Rocky") in a race," Cajuste said. "I got his speed. I always love to run. I'd randomly start racing down the block."
Cajuste figures he has an advantage over smaller defensive backs because of his size and speed. He wanted to play outside "for the glory of the big catch," he said.
He began playing football on the defensive side of the ball ("I was born on defense," he said) and as a freshman outside linebacker at Holy Cross High, he took matters into his own hands during one game.
"It was the fourth quarter with something like 1:35 left to play," Cajuste said. "I just decided to blitz on my own. I got the safety and it was the first time we'd beaten this team in a long time. I got yelled at."
Afterward, the coach asked him if he could catch.
"I said, 'I don't know, throw me the ball,'" he said. "That's how I knew I was a wide receiver."
Gaffney, meanwhile, said his neck and shoulders were pretty sore after gaining 104 yards and scoring a touchdown against San Jose State.
"It had been a while since I really hit anybody," Gaffney said. "It was reminded that football is a physical sport. It was a surreal experience but I was glad to be out there. I had every sort of anxious feeling before the game. I was nervous, I got goosebumps and I didn't know what to expect. After the first couple of plays it felt like I was back where I was supposed to be."
Shaw said Hogan has a good grasp of the offense now but that he still needs to work on throwing deep.
"As even-keeled as he is, he sees the long pass and gets excited, so he launches them" Shaw said. "It's just getting used to it. Andrew Luck had the same problem. Kevin has to hit the deep throws."