By AUSTIN COLBERT
Two years ago, as a sophomore, Thomas More Prep-Marian's Cameron Fouts spent the football season playing on the offensive and defensive lines. Eventually his athleticism led to him being moved to tight end as a junior. He wasn't used as a legitimate receiving threat throughout most of the season, but as a sixth blocker on the edge.
And as the senior enters the 2014 season, his role is going to change again. Standing near to 6-foot-1 and weighing 190 pounds, the former offensive lineman has emerged as one of TMP's top receiving threats, with soft hands and enough speed to make one question why he was ever put on the line to begin with.
"He's a tremendous athlete," senior running back Nick Schmidt said. "To go from tight end to slot or wide receiver, it seems like a big jump, but for him it's the same speed he's been going. His hands are there. The routes are a little bit different but he picked up on that the first two days. So it's like he's been doing that for a year or two already."
As Fouts played through his junior year -- a second consecutive 2-7 campaign for the Monarchs -- he developed aspirations of adding 15-20 pounds on his frame to continue evolving as a tight end. Instead of adding weight, the end result proved to be a lean and deceptively fast athlete the coaching staff saw as a viable option to replace key graduates at wide receiver, especially the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Ryan Mayorga.
"They felt that with my speed development that I was able to make the transition to wide receiver," Fouts said. "It will take some time to get used to the position. It's more finesse than the aggressive tight end where you are down in the trenches a lot more. But I think with the work I've been putting in this season I am making the transition pretty well."
Fouts, who also plays basketball and was the spring's Class 3A runner-up at state in the javelin, ran with the middle tier athletes during sprints at practice last season. This fall he has been running with the skill position athletes and is usually the first player back to the starting line.
He may not shatter records on the track, but on a football field Fouts is proving to possess a rare combination of size, strength and pure speed.
"Fouts is a unique athlete for us," TMP offensive coordinator James Harris said. "He's a kid we can put in multiple different formations, multiple different positions in different formations and utilize him in different ways. He has great hands. He's quick. He's elusive. He has all the skills you want in a skill player, and we want to be able to utilize those skills in every way possible."
Another important factor in Fouts' move from tight end to receiver was the maturation of junior Justin Pfeifer. At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Pfeifer spent most of his sophomore season just as Fouts did -- on the offensive line. And, much like Fouts, his athleticism didn't go unnoticed by the Monarch coaches, who felt comfortable enough with him at tight end to send Fouts out wide.
Joining Fouts at receiver will be 5-foot-11 junior Jared Schumacher, 6-foot-1 junior Chase Romme and 5-foot-7 sophomore Tucker Rhoades. Backup junior running back T.J. Flax could also line up outside.
"With Pfeifer's development and showing us that we can count on him in a down to down basis, down in and down out, it really allowed us to do some unique things with getting more athletes out in space and in position to carry the ball," TMP third-year head coach John Montgomery said.
"First of all, it's difficult to replace a Ryan Mayorga. That's a tough position to fill. But absolutely we can look at the development of a Jared Schumacher. We can look at the competitiveness of Tucker Rhoades and his desire to get better every day. Then when you throw Fouts into the mix, it gives us some good options out there on the edge. I think it will cause some problems for defenses."
For Fouts, who also starts at linebacker and was named one of the team's captains for the 2014 season, it will be an opportunity to spend more time in the spotlight, something the soft-spoken leader hasn't been keen to seek out.
Nonetheless, after years of blocking for others, it could be Fouts' turn to be on the frequent receiving end -- literally -- of the splendor that comes with scoring a touchdown under the Friday night lights.
"It gives me more opportunities to get out in space and get open so that I can get the ball more," Fouts said.
"It's something I've been working hard at this offseason so I can catch up to the people that are experienced at wide receiver. I think it will help a lot."