Rashad Still didn’t start playing football until midway through high school, and sometimes for the Gophers receiver, this all still looks like a lark.
He’ll be dancing between drills. He’ll drop a catchable pass. He’ll talk after practice about dyeing his hair blue or orange or blonde, like last season, when he changed colors every three weeks.
At Andress High School, in El Paso, Texas, he once showed up for the prom with purple hair.
“I think it’s a smoke screen,” said Patrick Brown, Still’s high school coach. “People don’t realize it. They think he’s a clown, but he’s deadly focused.”
The proof came on national television last season, when Still caught touchdown passes against Michigan and Ohio State as a true freshman. He finished with 18 receptions for 194 yards and three touchdowns.
After adding muscle to his long, slender frame, Still is penciled in for a starting role and figures to challenge Drew Wolitarsky for the role of Mitch Leidner’s go-to receiver.
In high school, Still was a 6-5 dunking machine on the basketball court, earning all-state honors. That was his passion. But in his first year at Andress, Brown convinced Still to give football a try as a junior.
Years earlier, a similar-sized wide receiver named Cliff Tucker had played for Brown and then headed off to play basketball at Maryland, where he averaged six points per game.
“When I talked to Cliff, he always wished he would have taken the football route because a 6-5 receiver in football is like a 7-2 center in basketball,” Brown said. “So I told that to Rashad.”
“That’s an easy ticket,” Still said. “In my head, I’m like, ‘Paid education — money.’ I’m going to go where it’s easier to get that education.”
Brown knew it was the right choice, watching the way Still threw himself into the football regimen with weight training, 7-on-7 sessions and more.
“He’s so physical,” Brown said. “We had him play tight end in high school, even at that size. He ran down the field and decapitated guys.”
Still had 367 receiving yards as a junior, and his skills were so raw, there weren’t many recruiters.
Brown said he talked to Texas-El Paso, New Mexico State and Texas Tech and couldn’t convince them to take a chance on Still.
Pat Poore, the Gophers assistant who recruits Texas, took interest in the late bloomer. Still had 704 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. Poore watched him dominate on the basketball court, too.
“Coach Poore was the only one who pictured him down the road,” Brown said. “Rashad’s not from an affluent background. I said, ‘Give him three meals a day, and he’ll get bigger in a hurry.’ ”
Sure enough, Still weighs 211 pounds, up from 185 when he arrived on campus last summer.
“He is more focused, obviously,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said early in camp. “He is much stronger and bigger.”
The same day Claeys said this, Still also dropped a routine pass.
“He has great hands, but it’s a fundamental thing,” Claeys said. “He looked upfield before he put the ball away.”
But there is no mistaking how much more confident Still looks as a sophomore, attacking balls thrown in his general direction, pulling down more of them.
“I’m just trying to really focus in and master my game and just try to help Mitch [Leidner] out as much as possible,” he said.
“And try to perfect my game with routes, with blocking, with knowing what to do when a different defense comes into play.”
His hair color looks natural, though. Are his days of dyeing it over?
“Oh, no, no, it’s coming,” he said. “My teammates keep asking, ‘When are you going to do it?’ I’m like, ‘It’s going to be out of nowhere.’ ”
Kind of like his Big Ten football career.