Francis Owusu: Life After "The Catch"

College football has a short attention span - it is very much a “what have you done for me lately” sport. Heroes are made on the field every Saturday and often forgotten by the time the following Thursday rolls around, relegated to a bullet point in the game notes. Preparation for the next task at hand consumes the coaches and the stage is reset for another player to etch their name in a small corner of their school’s history.

In case you managed to somehow miss the single greatest catch of the year that took place two Saturday’s ago, here is Stanford wide receiver Francis Owusu catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan by basically bear-hugging the ball to UCLA defensive back Jaleel Wadood.

Stanford defeated UCLA that night 56-35, which was the most points given up by the Bruins under head coach Jim Mora. A win streak against UCLA was extended, school records were broken and the faint whisper of the Cardinal entering the College Football Playoff conversation could be heard echoing off the stadium walls.

Completely lost in the aftermath of The Catch was the play that started it all: Christian McCaffrey lined up in the shotgun with Hogan wide right; McCaffrey handed the ball off to Bryce Love on a reverse, who then pitched it to Hogan, who finished the play by launching the ball 41-yards downfield.

The “McLove” (not "McLovin", as great as that would have been, but the combination of the last names of McCaffrey and Love) has been used before, but that exact play has not been executed by Stanford since 2011. The Cardinal were playing USC in overtime when Andrew Luck threw a flat pass to Ty Montgomery, who pitched the ball to Jeremy Stewart for a five yard gain around the end. Stanford went on to win that game 56-48 in triple overtime. Ironically, the play was originally designed for and practiced by Chris Owsusu, Francis’ older brother, but he was knocked out of the game by a brutal hit in the final minutes of regulation.

But on October 15th, everyone was too blinded by the way the play finished to remember how it started. And rightfully so, as it was indescribable for many people, including those involved.

“I still am at a loss for words on the catch,” said McCaffrey, the sophomore running back. “I handed it off to Bryce, he pitched it to Hogan, Hogan bombed one out there. I saw the catch and didn’t know what to do. Sprinted to the sideline and just sat down. And I was at a loss for words… I couldn’t believe that. That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Owusu’s life changed overnight. The video of The Catch was everywhere – it basically broke the Internet. There were tweets, there were texts and the junior wide receiver was bombarded with questions about how he managed to make such a magnificent catch without a direct line of sight.

“I saw it for a little bit, and then from there, I just felt the ball after that,” was the only explanation Owusu could offer. “Didn’t really see it, and then squeezed as hard as I could when I felt it. And then I just … caught a ball.”

In fact, Owusu credited Tavita Pritchard, the team’s quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, for helping him make the incredible catch, citing the fact that each day in practice, Pritchard runs a “distraction drill,” intentionally blocking the view and distracting receivers. But how does a player prepare for the onslaught of media attention that comes with such a play?

ESPN dedicated a Sports Science video to mechanics behind The Catch.

ESPN also sent a reporter and camera crew to capture Owusu’s life on campus in the days following the game.

“I mean honestly, it’s surreal,” said Owusu in a presser the Tuesday following The Catch. “It’s surreal to see your name up there on ESPN.”

Possibly the most humorous and humbling part of the story is how Owusu spent the night following the biggest play of his collegiate career.

“That night I had to stay up until 4 or 5 am to finish a paper,” said Owusu. “It was for one of my communications classes. I was a little juiced writing the paper – it was an alright paper.”

Life goes on for Francis Owusu, who had one catch for 17 yards in Stanford’s 31-14 win over Washington this past Saturday. The Cardinal’s win helped propel them to No. 8 in the AP rankings. And Owusu’s catch was bumped down in the queue, replaced with highlights of McCaffrey racking up 300 all-purpose yards and scoring two touchdowns against the Huskies.

“I’m at the point where I don’t know what else to say, other than watch him,” said head coach David Shaw of McCaffrey. “The little guy never gets tired. He’s just special.”

McCaffrey’s monster play against UCLA may have been eclipsed by The Catch, but the 6-foot, 201-pounder from Castle Rock, Colorado continues to garner national attention game in and game out while quietly making his case for the Heisman. He leads the college football world in all-purpose yards (259.7 ypg) and he reached 100 rushing yards for the fifth straight game.

“He can do it all,” said Hogan. “He’s a leader on this team. Everyone looks to him and just his attitude…he’s a really special player.”

Stanford has now won a nation-best 26 consecutive night games at home. The Cardinal travel to Washington State next weekend for a surprisingly pivotal game against quarterback Luke Faulk and the Cougs air raid offense.

As for Owusu, “he doesn’t play a lot, but when he plays he makes big plays … He plays his role,” said Shaw. “He goes in and blocks, and he’s in the game in critical positions and that catch, I can’t describe that catch.  I still can’t, I still can’t … I don’t understand what happened … I was looking at my call sheet for the next call because I thought it was incomplete, and the guys were telling me that he caught it.”

Owusu will forever be chasing a play that causes some serious Shaw face.

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