UCLA receiver Christian Pabico rising from walk-on to potential starter
LOS ANGELES — If his consistent play-making ability and steady hands weren’t enough to grab attention, then Christian Pabico’s bright gold cleats will do the trick.
There’s no way for the walk-on to hide anymore, and no reason for him to either. The redshirt junior who received few scholarship offers coming out of Long Beach Poly is running with UCLA’s first-team offense, catching passes from quarterback Josh Rosen and angling for a starting role with the Bruins less than three weeks left until their season opener.
“He has certainly worked his way into the discussion and it’s a credit to him and only him and his work ethic,” Coach Jim Mora said. “You cheer for those guys.”
Pabico prepared for his breakout year with offseason training with fellow receiver Darren Andrews. The pair went anywhere they could find space – the track, the field, the beach – and worked on speed training and route running. He ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash this summer, he said. That, combined with a pair of steady hands and rock-solid comprehension for the offensive system, has Pabico ascending to places he might not have even imagined at one point.
“If you told me, ‘You’d be with the ones’ a year ago, (to) that I would say, ‘No way,’” Pabico said. “Definitely it’s been an amazing experience.”
Pabico led Long Beach Poly in receiving yards and touchdowns as a senior, besting teammate and future second-round NFL Draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, and only mustered scholarship offers from Division II and FCS schools. He caught the game-winning touchdown in a playoff game for the Jackrabbits and barely anyone bothered to take his photo or get his quote. He was named Moore League Offensive MVP and planned to go to junior college at Mt. SAC.
Then he caught wind of an open walk-on spot at UCLA. It took him all of five seconds to decide he was returning Mora’s call.
During his first three years at UCLA, Pabico labored as a loyal scout team player. He appeared in one game, last year against UNLV, but doesn’t have an official catch. With major turnover on the offensive coaching staff this offseason, Pabico finally got his chance.
“Everyone had a clean slate,” he said of the coaching changes, which included replacing former receivers coach Eric Yarber, who joined the staff of the NFL’s Rams, with Jimmie Dougherty.
Dougherty gushes about the 6-foot-1, 195-pound receiver’s competitive fire and reliability. Everyone from Mora to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch to Rosen has praised Pabico’s ability to “do everything right.” Even teammates on the other side of the ball can’t help but praise Pabico.
“For him to be a walk-on, it’s just peculiar to me because he’s not a walk-on in my eyes,” said cornerback Darnay Holmes, a constant adversary of Pabico’s during team periods. “He’s definitely a ballplayer.”
Some teammates have started a social media campaign to secure Pabico a scholarship: #OfferPabico. Mora, a former walk-on himself at Washington, said the team has only one more open scholarship to offer. It’s a motivator for Pabico, but not the greatest motivation in his climb toward the starting lineup.
“Whether I get a scholarship or not, it’s not the end of the world if I don’t,” Pabico said. “I’m still going to work my hardest to get on the field because at the end of the day that’s my biggest goal is to try to make an impact on this team some way, somehow.”
Powered by WPeMatico