STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Devon Cajuste visited Stanford during a major recruiting weekend two days after David Shaw became the head coach in January 2011. The big receiver needed no sales pitch from Shaw — just the right answer to his question.
"Coach, you going to move me to tight end?" Shaw recalls Cajuste asking.
"No," Shaw replied.
"Great," Cajuste said. "I'm coming."
One of the first — and fastest — commitments Shaw sealed as coach is looking like a smart move now. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver is developing into one of the team's top targets after selecting Stanford over eight other schools — including Harvard — because every other program wanted to turn him into a tight end.
"I guess it was just like, 'Give me a shot. Don't shoot someone down before they even have the opportunity,'" he said.
Cajuste's career is taking off at just the right time, too.
Stanford's only New York native will get a chance to showcase his skills in his home state when the fifth-ranked Cardinal (1-0) face Army (1-1) on the West Point campus Saturday.
Cajuste, who was raised in Seaford, N.Y., caught three passes for 62 yards and a touchdown to spark Stanford's 34-13 victory over San Jose State in the season opener. The redshirt sophomore made just one catch for 7 yards last season, when he was utilized mostly as a run blocker on the outside.
The Cardinal are counting on Cajuste — along with junior Ty Montgomery — to anchor a downfield-passing attack to balance out a power running game.
Cajuste's first career TD showed just what makes him so difficult to defend. He beat a cornerback playing press coverage — "my favorite," he said — on the outside, then sliced up the middle at full speed, caught the pass in stride and dragged a defender into the end zone to complete the 40-yard score.
"He's huge, he's physical and he's got deceiving speed," quarterback Kevin Hogan said.
Cajuste guesses his size and speed comes from his dad, Gregory, who played football and basketball before joining the Marines. The two would often race against their dog, a Rottweiler named Rocky, and he said his dad would often win.
Cajuste never lost his sense of humor. He describes himself as a "European mutt," tracing his roots back to nine different ethnicities and a French-Italian surname.
His Twitter handle, @speedracer13193, actually has nothing to do with his athleticism. Instead, it's just his favorite childhood cartoon and birthdate.
Cajuste still had to grow into a wide receiver. He started at outside linebacker on the freshman team at Holy Cross High School in Flushing, N.Y., where he said his best defensive highlight was sacking the quarterback for a safety late in an 8-6 win over Monsignor Farrell High School.
One day, coaches asked Cajuste if he could catch. He starred the next three seasons at wide receiver, leading his high school league in receptions (47), yards (864) and touchdowns (nine) as a senior.
Most still projected him as a tight end in college. Scout even ranked him as the 36th best tight end prospect in the nation, which is still listed in his Stanford biography.
Cajuste wanted no part of the position.
"The glory of like the big catch is really more applied to the receiver," Cajuste said. "And being my size, a tight end would make me an even match. It's such a huge advantage being on the outside at my size."
Shaw said making the transition to tight end can be "traumatic" for many high school receivers but Cajuste could've made the switch. He just believes Cajuste possesses a unique set of skills at wide receiver.
"A lot of big guys can't run those comeback routes and curls," Shaw said. "He can."
Cajuste still has a long way to go to before he can be considered a consistent threat at receiver. All three of his catches against San Jose State came in the first quarter, and Stanford will face tougher competition in the Pac-12 this season.
Cajuste considers just getting on the field an accomplishment. He set the modest goal of getting in for "one play" when he started at Stanford and has set new benchmarks with every step.
"When I started on scout team, I wanted to be scout player of the week. So when I got that, it was, 'All right, what's the next goal?" he said. "I want to go up to the team. I don't want to be on the scout field anymore. And then after that it's like, 'All right, I want playing time. I just want one play.' And that's how I incremented it."
So what's next?
"It was the first touchdown," he said. "I haven't really thought about it."
That decision will take more time than his first.