Ricky Marvray, the redshirt freshman receiver, sat down with us recently in our continuing series of off-season chats with UCLA players.
OK, we're going to make you think a little right off the bat. One of the things we've all noticed about you, something that you do more or better than some of the other receivers, is play the ball in the air … adjust routes to shorten the distance between you and the ball, use your body to shield defenders, track the flight of the ball … I've asked some pretty good center fielders the same question - do you see that as an instinctive thing, a learned thing?
‘'With me that's very instinctive. Honestly, growing up as a kid, I was a basketball player and was madly in love with the sport, and in basketball, you know you have to get rebounds a lot. Playing basketball, I wasn't always the tallest dude, but I had a lot of energy and I was all about getting that ball, so when it was shot, I would go get it, you know what I mean? Because in basketball, you can't wait for the ball to come to you, you have to go get it. And then when I started playing football, when the ball was in the air, when I was playing receiver, and I used to be a defensive back in high school, it's the same thing. You have to go get it first. When the ball is in the air, there are 11 guys on the field, and it's on its way to you, but something could happen so you have to make sure you get it. I never wait for the ball to come to me, I always go get it. I try to catch the ball, not let the ball come to me. I go get it.''
There's more to that than just … that, though. If you're on a route and the ball is in the air, you know where you and the ball are going to intersect, whether it be here or here or here ...
‘'A lot of it is experience, too. I'm new to the sport of football, but I can tell when the ball leaves the quarterback's hand pretty much where I need to be in order to make the best play possible. I know that, you know, if I'm running across the middle and he throws it across the middle, I know there's a safety somewhere but I just block him out, now I need to get to the ball the best way I know how. I might need to speed up. I might need to slow down. You pretty much know with experience when the ball leaves his hands, what he's thinking … you get a relationship with your quarterback. Me and my quarterback in high school had a relationship – sometimes he would put the ball where I wasn't but I had to adjust myself to get to where he put it. It's a relationship thing, too, but, yeah, it's a very instinctive skill.''
Can you explain that? Is it just an innate thing?
‘'The skill itself? I honestly believe not everybody has it. I'll say that right off the bat. I honestly don't believe that everybody has the skill that I'm talking about right now. I think I do, but to teach it, you honestly can't even teach it. When that ball is in the air, my mindset is that it is mine and only mine. When I'm running that route and it's in the air, there might be six people going after it, but I put it in my mind that it's coming to me, it's mine, I'm going to get it and no one else is going to stop me from getting it. It's a hunger that you have to have, honestly. It's a passion. I'm doing everything I can out there to get that ball. I will die to get that ball. It's nothing you can teach. It's instinctive. You either have it or you don't. You can't teach a player to want that.''
Last year, redshirting, was that difficult for you?
‘'I'm not going to lie. It was a little difficult because, you know, I do play the sport of football and I came to college to play it. Sitting out the first year was tough. Necessary, I believe, though. I don't know what would have happened if I would have played, but I honestly think that God made the best decision possible for me to get redshirted. I know I'm definitely ready now. If there were any doubts last year, those doubts are not there anymore. I know for sure that I can play the sport of football at the college level. ‘'I have a year under my belt playing with Division I athletes, who are awesome and going on to play on in better places, and I honestly believe that I am ready now. There's not too much that's going to stop me, basically. I'm really hungry. Honestly, I believe that I'm the hungriest one. You might think that you're hungrier, but I can guarantee you that you're not. I want it more than you do. I can look another receiver on this team in the face and honestly tell him, ‘I want it more than you do.' Not to discredit any of the receivers on the team, that's just the mindset you have to have if you're playing this sport. ‘'It's not a selfish mindset, you just have to know what you can do and that, you know, you're going to do everything in your power to make yourself shine. I hope we all do good next year, but I do think I am the hungriest. I'm not going to lie, and I think a lot of people would agree when I say that. I am the hungriest.''
What did you do to try and get everything you could out of that year? How did it help you?
‘'It was an awesome experience, playing against Alterraun Verner. I must bring him up. Off the bat, he guarded me in practice every day. I'm going up against one of the top corners in the nation every day and he's not taking it easy on me and I'm not taking it easy on him. We're out there playing. He made me a better athlete at my position. So, I just took advantage of the fact I'm going up against good corners. We had an awesome linebacking corps, d-line. Honestly, I was just happy I was able to be around Division I caliber athletes, and they made me better. To get myself ready for next year, I just went hard in practice every day and took advantage of going against good players. Obviously in the weight room, getting ready for next year, I took advantage of that. Now I'm a year stronger and a year faster than I was last year and, like I said, I believe I'm ready to show what I can do.''
In terms of the UCLA offense, were you able to get any comfort level there? Running scouts, you're basically running the opponent's stuff …
‘'You know, we ran cards that were drawn up. We ran whatever team we were playing, their plays, for that week. Did I learn a lot of our offense during that time? No. But that's over now and we're really into our playbooks. I think I have a long, not long, but fairly long time to get the playbook down before next season. But during the redshirt year, do you have really time to be learning our offensive plays? A lot of times, we just focused on, like, if we were playing Arizona they gave us Arizona film, we had to go home and study Arizona film, we had to be whatever player they wanted us to be. We had to mimic that player. That was a pretty good task in itself, as far as learning any of the offense during the season, we didn't really see too much of that. But, definitely now, though, we're seeing it.''
How has that been going for you? Especially for a receiver, there are so many adjustments …
‘'For me, especially, it's a very daunting task. I came from a high school that ran a spread offense. We had one formation, and that was spread. It was either three wide receivers to the right and one to the left, two to the right and two to the left, or three to the left and one to the right. It was very simple. My offense in high school, I think we ran no more than maybe 10 plays and just rotated those 10. ‘'I came from three years of that and my body is trained to that, and coming to college it has been tough picking up the playbook because it's a pro-style offense No. 1, a very intricate offense. You know, the play calls are very long. In high school, one word was a play. Blackjack. That was one of our plays. One word, and I knew I had this … Now, it's ‘Spear right, weak 61, Falcon, Y out.' That's one play. You have to decipher that and know what you have to do and a lot of times in that there are certain protections that you have to listen for so you'll know if you're on a hot route, so it's definitely a lot more than I had to deal with in high school. It has been tough, but I picked it up pretty good. I don't have it down pat, but I'm getting there and I have a lot of time before next season. ‘'With our quarterbacks, you know, Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, I get with them on the weekends and we go over the plays. They're making sure I get the stuff down.''
So the spring is going to be very important for you, proving that you have the offense down …
‘'It's going to be pivotal, for a lot of us. Spring is where you earn it. That's when the depth chart is made for the fall. You have to prove yourself. You just have to make sure you want it more than whoever you're going after it with.''
With school and everything, how much time are you spending on it heading into the spring?
‘'Right now, it's football. It's not as much as it was during the season, so we do have a lot more extra time. Myself, I'm going at our playbook I'd probably say three times a week. I meet up with our quarterback, Kevin Prince, and go over it for an hour, an hour and a half. Yesterday, I went over film. Then we always get together on the weekends and we actually throw the routes. So we go over them and we throw them, so that's three. And then after running on Tuesday and Thursday, we have little throwing sessions where we're not going over the plays but we're going over the routes and that's pretty much the same thing. So, it's quite a bit. I'm getting a lot of studying in with that.''
Obviously coming out of the spring you're going to be further along than you will be going into it, but where do you feel like you will be going into the spring?
‘'Honestly, very confident in my abilities, willing and ready to work hard. I know nothing is going to be given to me, so going into the spring my mindset is going to be to come out here, bust my butt like I always do, make sure I know my plays, that's very important, and at the end of the day you hope for the best. You put it in God's hands, because injuries are a part of the game. You never want to get hurt, but you never know what will happen. I just want to make sure I stay healthy as best I can. That's pretty much my mindset going into spring practice – be ready to work.''
You mentioned being a year faster, a year stronger. From the end of the season, you actually even look taller, at least to me. What kind of gains have you made since you've been here?
‘'Physically, I know since I've been here I've gained maybe 10 pounds so that's good. I'm 190 right now and I came in at 180, 178. That's good, especially at my position. I don't need that much weight anyway, but any extra I can get is good. And, yeah, I did get a little taller. Stronger, I have very much gotten stronger. Our weight lifting program, it's allowed me to blossom in the strength department. I'm doing weight that I never did in high school, so obviously I'm getting stronger, and I came from a high school where weight lifting was everything. We were in the weight room all the time, and I've gotten stronger from that. The physical gains, definitely, I would say, I'm a more physical specimen than when I came in. I've definitely made gains in that department.''
Speed wise, have you timed a 40 lately?
‘'No, but I know the last 40 that I did time was 4.5 in the summer and I've gotten way faster since then. I think we test in about a week or two and we'll see then, but I think I've definitely made a significant gain in my 40 and a lot of it is technique that I didn't have before. I got here and learned a lot of different techniques. Even when I'm running my routes I feel faster than I've ever felt. I feel like I'm very prepared for that.''
What has been a factor in that, the techniques? Are you talking about first step, stride?
‘'First of all, I was a choppy person. I took a lot of choppy steps getting off the line. They're teaching me here, though, to open up my stride, something that I haven't really done before. Opening up my stride, you do get faster. It's allowed me to run better routes – DBs think I'm really going deep now where before it'd be kind of choppy. You have to sell deep sometimes to run a comeback or run whatever, so opening up my stride, I get them to think I'm going deep a little better. Then, coming off the line, it's just stance. Our wide receiver coach always preaches stance, and he's correcting my stance to the fact where I used to false step, you know, take one extra step. But now I'm getting off the ball now and it's one fluid motion forward. I'm not making any unnecessary moves. Techniques like that are making me faster in the department of running routes and then 40-wise they're teaching me a lot of flexion stuff, a lot of track things, things that I wasn't necessarily introduced to in high school. In high school it was kind of just, line up and run. They taught us running form, but didn't go into too much detail. Now, they're really kind of breaking it down and going into extensive detail. We're getting faster.''
The speed was kind of the one knock against you coming out of high school …
‘'Yeah, it was. And, you know, I would be the first to admit it. I'm not a blazer. I'm not the fastest guy out there. But I can guarantee that I will be the hardest worker. That's hands down. And, football is a game of speed, but at the end of the day, who wants it more, I believe, will prevail. There are guys who aren't fast and are still good, you know? So, it can be done. Speed helps, and I don't think I'm slow, and I think you can ask some DBs who have covered me and they might give me some credit in that department, but I will find my way around you to catch that ball. That's guaranteed.''
Well, it's great to run a 4.3, but so what if you're running 6.3 on a 12-yard out …
‘'That's another thing, my position is a lot of change of direction. You do want to have burners, but it's for that vertical. Those are 50-50 anyway. If it's man coverage, ball is up in the air … I mean, the quarterback, if he throws a good ball, it won't be about whether you're fast enough it's going to be can you make the catch with somebody on you. And then, a lot of your routes, you're not running 4.3 or 4.4 into a slant. You need to have good technique, know how to break down and have good fakes. I think I'm probably better in that department than just speed, but I know when it comes time to catch that ball, slow, fast, at the end of the day I'm going to find a way to catch it.''
Has the opening up of the stride had an effect on how you go into and come out of breaks?
‘'Absolutely, because when you were like me before and you took a lot of choppy steps, your body is trained to that. So opening up my stride, I've had to adjust getting in and out of my breaks because it feels different. I'm stretching up the field more, I'm pumping my arms and getting up the field, so when I get to that top of that route, I really have to work on really sitting down. Our coach always tells us, try to get out of your break in three steps, where before when I was really choppy, I would use a lot of choppy steps. It was still quick, but not as quick as it could have been. I've had to deal with a little change in that department, but I'm picking it up and I think I'm becoming a better route runner.''
The choppy looks fast, but it's not …
‘'No, you want to try to get out of that break in less steps as possible, not as many.''
When you look at the receiving corps next year, you have a lot of guys coming back obviously, where do you see yourself in that rotation?
‘'Like I said, I'm just going to keep working hard and hope for the best. I've been talking to Coach (Norm) Chow and he's been telling me, I want you to be a contributor, so coming from the offensive coordinator telling you that, I'm sure I'll be in there somewhere. But I honestly think, as far as how much you play and if you play and all that, some people like to say it's politics, but at the end of the day, it's on you, on how hard you're working. I think if you're displaying that you know what you're doing and you're making plays and no one else making as many as you, you will play. If you're doing everything you need to do, there's no reason you should be on the field. That's why I'm just making sure I'm working hard and making plays. You've got to make plays at this level. That's the major thing, making plays, Everybody can catch the slant, everybody can catch the curl. But who is going to go down the field and make the play, the touchdown? That's one thing I do hope to become, a big-play receiver.''
I talked to Taylor Embree a while back and he said that all of the receivers would be taking their cues from you when it came to blocking down field. What is it about that part of the game that gets you going so much?
‘'You know, I played safety as a sophomore in high school and I come from a school where, as a receiver, you're not just a receiver. I come from a spread offense in high school, but all of our running backs over the past how many years have been 3,000-yard guys. To do that with a spread offense, you would think, wow, there are no tight ends blocking, no fullbacks blocking … Who is doing the blocking? The o-line and the receivers. I definitely come from an offense where blocking as a receiver was first and catching the ball was second. I brought that with me here. I don't really know how it was before I got here, but I know how I plan to make it, or at least help change it. ‘'We need to be getting down that field blocking and when it does come to blocking, I love putting a hat on a hat. I honestly believe I'm like a DB at heart because I love collision. I love collision. Being a receiver you could get selfish at times, because you're made to be a star. But I love blocking and getting somebody else their glory, too. I'm not a selfish person. I tell the running backs all the time, bring it to the right, bring it to my side, whatever side I'm on. They'll pretty much know, if I'm in there, I'm giving it 200 percent to make sure they get into that end zone. Just like, when they're picking up that blitz, I hope they're giving it 200 percent so I can get into that zone. It's a mutual respect that we have. ‘'I definitely want to get this receiving corps riled up to do some hitting because, I mean, how electrifying is it to see a receiver smash somebody and the running back go 70? It's not something you see every day. I think that would definitely give our fans something to see next year.''
I had a feeling just crushing somebody was a big part of that for you …
Oh, yeah. I told you I love collision. My helmet, at the end of the season last year, it looked like I was in the trenches. Bottom line, I don't shy away from contact. If it's there, I try to take it. If it's not there, I'll go out of my way to get it. I don't just hit everybody, like, hit people in the back, but I definitely am always looking to get a helmet on a helmet. Even when I have the ball in my hands. I'm a shifty guy and I'm going to try to get around you, but sometimes you can't do that. Sometimes I love putting my head down and making my presence felt. ‘'Football is a game of respect, you know what I mean? So, when you're in that game, if you put your head down on that safety one good time I guarantee you he's not going to come, he's going to be hesitant the next time, and what do you have now? You have an advantage over him. I definitely like to just … I guess the word is, make my presence felt. I like that. I like people to know, ‘I'm going against Ricky. I need to be ready.' If I can get them to think that, then I've already got them beat. If they think they need to change something up to guard me or whatever, then I've already got them beat.''
Got any dream shots from the practice field last year?
‘'Nah, I don't really want to bring that up because at the end of the day, they're my teammates. I don't want to say that. I mean, I got some good licks in, though, I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to say who, but it doesn't really matter. An opponent next year, that's what I want. I'm trying to knock somebody out on national television. That is my goal, because we have Texas next year and we have everybody else. I'm trying to get down that field and trying to get one of them, then I'll tell you about that.''
Off-Season Talk: Ricky Marvray
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