There’s something junior receiver Marcus Lucas does that makes the path ahead of him more attainable and the yards beyond him more possible to blaze through.
The ball is coming for him and he doesn’t wait for it. Not anymore. He splays his arms out, flares his fingers wide and creates the basket away from his body.
“A lot of receivers like to catch it in their body,” he said. “That’s one thing that makes me different.”
And then comes the next part. And then comes the next thing that makes him different.
This is the part where Lucas has most impressed offensive coordinator David Yost on just the second day of fall camp, 29 days before he calls the plays he’ll hope to bust ready and proud Southeastern Conference defenses with when the team has it season opener.
Yost saw the potential in Lucas when the lanky 6-foot-5, 195-pound prospect arrived from Liberty. He was a freshman then, just another freshman at the bottom of the depth chart.
“We knew he was extremely talented,” Yost said. “He showed signs of that his first year. He made some key plays that year.”
They were key plays, and only three catches. There was the six-yard snag on McNeese State. Another six-yarder came at Texas Tech. The other was his longest of the season, 11 yards.
It came in the third quarter on the night of Oct. 23, 2010, Homecoming, against No. 1 Oklahoma. He caught Blaine Gabbert’s pass and it allowed for the first down, which eventually set up the field goal to bring the Tigers to a 20-14 lead. Later in the night, fans paraded with a field goal post downtown.
“We knew he had it in him, but it was just a matter of getting him out there on a consistent basis on the game day field,” Yost said.
Lucas has known all along what he could control. He could control the opportunities. He could control the repetitions he had when quarterback James Franklin was a freshman with him, when they worked out of the second and third team offenses. They were “backups in the shadows,” as Lucas puts it.
“Make it count,” he said, explaining the thought process in his head two years ago. “Make sure you let them know you can be that player for them. That’s kind of what I did.”
There came more chances in his sophomore season. They came in practice, when former starter and current Houston Texans receiver Jerell Jackson dealt with injuries, when Lucas’ name was called more often.
“You could see it come along,” Yost said.
He caught a different 11-yard gain last season. Nearly a full year after the grab against Oklahoma, this one came against Texas A&M in overtime for a game-winning touchdown.
With Franklin delivering, Lucas had a breakout 2011 with 414 yards (third on the team) and five scores (tied for a team-high).
“He’s a lot different player now than he was last year,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “Kids mature at different levels. I always use the example of (current Miami Dolphins tight end) Michael Egnew, not to say that everyone matures and they become all-conference. But Michael Egnew, first year, second year you saw a pretty good player. Then all the sudden the third year this guy’s an All-American and you’re thinking, 'What the heck? What happened? Where did this guy come from?' Finally it all starts coming together.”
In his third year, Lucas sits atop the team depth chart in a group of receivers that is among the best in the country. He came onto the practice field Friday with a small bounce in his steps.
“Time to go to work, baby!” he said, a metal banner on the athletic facility’s brick wall to his right with S.W.A.G: Sacrifice Will Achieve Greatness displayed. “Time to go to work.”
There was another freshman receiver on hand, Dorial Green-Beckham, the No. 1 recruit from the 2011 class who is at the bottom of the team depth chart because freshmen must always start at the bottom.
At one point during a drill, he took a pass and jogged up field. He jogged back to a yelling Yost. “Burst up the field! Burst! Burst!”
Green-Beckham tucked the ball up back to his chest and sprinted 30 yards forward, obeying his coach’s demand.
Before long, Yost was yelling at another player. “Burst up the field! Burst Burst!”
And then he called for Lucas, nearby in the drill line.
“Marcus,” he said. “Get ‘em going.”
“What he’s starting to do more and more is what he wants to do after he gets the ball,” Yost said. “That ‘s what I see this year in practice. ... There’s a purpose to it.”
Lucas responds: “I got it coach.”
It’s Lucas’ turn in line and he runs the expected route and he makes the catch, ball away from his belly. Then comes the part where he separates himself.
This is the part after the catch where Lucas swings his body around, stares down the wide open field ahead of him and runs fearlessly through it.