Wide receivers Michael Rector and Francis Owusu distinguished themselves for different reasons last season.
Rector grabbed the first and last touchdowns of the 12-2 campaign for No. 3 Stanford, while Owusu produced the catch of the year in college football.
Francis Owusu/Photo by David Bernal
"Kind of cool," he said. "Just being in front of 100,000 people and making plays with your boys. Those are memories you're going to have for a lifetime."
On Oct. 15, 2015, Owusu became the darling of ESPN SportsCenter and social media. Early in the third quarter against UCLA, he pinned a flea-flicker 41-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan against the back of Bruin defender Jaleel Wadood while falling backward in the end zone.
The dazzling play left the Stanford Stadium crowd of more than 50,000 and Cardinal coach David Shaw speechless.
Christian McCaffrey took a direct snap in the Wildcat formation, then handed off to Bryce Love on a jet sweep. Love flipped the ball to Hogan, who lined up as a receiver, and the rest is history.
"That's what you play this game for, to make memorable moments with your brothers," said Owusu. "The play wouldn't have worked if everybody didn't do their job, so I give them credit for doing something special."
Owusu, a 6-foot-3, 219-pound senior from Oxnard, California, is still asked about the feat at least once a day.
"People would say, 'Dude, are you The Catch?' '' he said. "My name wasn't Francis, it was just, 'The Catch.' ''
Playing in every game the past three seasons, Rector entered 2016 with 72 catches for 1,314 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has been Stanford's top deep threat, averaging over 18 yards per reception during those three years, and is dangerous on end-arounds.
Rector completed his degree in human biology last June and considered applying for the NFL Draft. Ultimately, he decided to stay to help the team and spend additional time working in the stem cell research lab.
"I'd wake up one day wanting to declare for the draft, then I'd wake up the next day wanting to come back for a fifth year," Rector said. "For me, it was talking to my parents and coaches and trying to get my mind right."
Rector still hopes to play in the NFL, but medical school also is on his radar. He would like to become a cardiovascular surgeon.
Rector spent most of the summer working in the lab, often joined by teammate Bryce Love and former Cardinal All-America Joshua Garnett, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Some sessions were overseen by Jeff Trojan, a former Stanford wide receiver and special teams ace.
"It's cool seeing how football translates," Rector said. "You work as a team but everyone has their own job that ultimately comes together as a unit."
Owusu was the only true freshman to play in 2013. Heading into 2016, he had appeared in 39 games and caught 26 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns.
A three-sport (football, basketball and track) star at Oaks Christian School, Owusu has heredity on his side. His brother, Chris, played wide receiver at Stanford from 2008-11, and twice led the team in kickoff returns, carting three to the end zone in 2009, and played four seasons in the NFL.
Another brother, Brian, played football at Harvard, and sister Crystal played basketball at Columbia. His father, Francis, ran the 400 meters for the Ghanaian national team.
Owusu communicates with Chris at least once a day.
"I have always looked up to him and watched what he does," Owusu said. "I remember when he was looking at colleges and mentioned Stanford to my dad. We didn't really know much. We looked it up and the team was 1-11 the season before (2006). We were like, 'Chris, you don't want to go anywhere else?' He had many offers but said this was where he wanted to go. I'm glad he made the decision because it helped me with mine."
A science, technology and society major, Owusu also wants a shot at the NFL.
"It's something I have worked my whole life for," he said.
Owusu is taking architecture classes and loves to build things.
"In ME101, we built a pinball machine out of phone cord," said Owusu. "It took a lot of work and there were a lot of late nights but I really enjoyed it."
Rector and Owusu have been tight since the first day they met on campus.
"I like to call him my big little brother," Rector said. "I give him a tough time about being how tall he is. He's such a good player but an even better person."
Said Owusu, "Ever since my freshman year, I watched how hard he worked in practice, in the weight room and the film room. He knows the game so well and uses his talent to get open on routes. He really helps me and the young guys."
About the only thing they don't see eye-to-eye on is their speed. Rector and high school rival Isaiah Brandt-Sims are the fastest players on the team, and Rector has run a 4.2 in the 40-yard dash.
"Francis likes to think he's faster than me, but he's not," Rector said. "He's scared to come over and race me. I hope he steps up."
Owusu wanted to settle the issue last spring but didn't run the 40. At some point, it will happen.
"I hope so," he said. "We always joke about it. They sleep on me. They think just because I have long strides I look slow. I know I have a little speed."