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Jake Maulhardt

Jake Maulhardt celebrates his touchdown against San Jose State on Oct. 26 in San Jose, Calif.

The state of California has seen its fair share of memorable high school receivers.

James Lofton. Keyshawn Johnson. Desean Jackson. The list goes on and on.

All went to high school in California, and all graduated on to NFL glory.

Wyoming's redshirt freshman receiver, at that time was a skinny 6-foot-7 skeleton of a pass-catcher, decked out in black and powder blue. And against the Canyon Cowboys, Maulhardt caught 28 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns, setting a California high school record for catches in a game.

Though he was invincible on that particular Friday night, Maulhardt -- now a starter for Wyoming -- entered Camarillo High School as a "work in progress," someone former Camarillo coach Dennis Riedmiller admits couldn't run or take a hit.

All he knew was that he wanted to play Division I football.

"He’s been working on his speed since he got to Camarillo High School, and he improved it. He went from like a 5.5 40 [yard dash], to whatever he’s running right now. He grew so fast, that it was almost like Bambi out there," Riedmiller said, laughing. "He was all legs.”

Those legs carried him forward. Never the most gifted pure athlete, Maulhardt worked harder than those around him. He gained weight -- very gradually -- and developed hands as reliable as you can find.

By the time he played Canyon in his senior season, no one -- and nothing -- could stop him.

The lightning couldn't stop him, despite the fact that the game was delayed for an hour-and-a-half, and was probably a few fateful strikes away from being cancelled altogether.

Canyon's defensive backs couldn't stop him. Maulhardt knew it, and he made sure Riedmiller knew it, too.

"I told coach that I felt that I could beat the guy who was guarding me the whole game," Maulhardt said.

The loss of his starting quarterback couldn't stop him, either. With his usual signal caller out with an injury, 5-8 sophomore Michael Marin started in only his third game with the varsity team.

And who's the best friend of a scared, nervous first-time quarterback?

A big target, of course. Maulhardt, 6-7 with long arms, provided that.

"Our quarterback, a sophomore named Michael Marin, he was getting rushed pretty heavily," Riedmiller said. "He saw No. 3, and he kept throwing it, throwing it, throwing it.”

And Maulhardt kept catching it, catching it, catching it -- 28 times over.

On a dreary night in California, not even a hit that would sideline the toughest receivers could keep the streaking Maulhardt off his pace. In the middle of the game, Marin lofted a pass that hung in the air a second too long, fluttering lazily before finally finding its target.

Maulhardt made the catch, but was immediately plowed through by a lurking safety.

“It was one of those throws where the quarterback should probably buy the guy some roses, because they’re going on top of Jake’s grave because he got hit so hard.

"But Jake shook it off, and I think he caught 12 more balls after that,” Riedmiller said, sounding astonished years later.

Following Camarillo's 52-28 defeat, neither the receiver nor the coach were aware of Maulhardt's record-breaking feat.

When asked how many catches he thought he had, Maulhardt guessed 10.

It was just another game for Jake Maulhardt. But not for everybody else.

"On social media, I blew up. I had 300 friend requests on Facebook," Maulhardt said. "We were in the computer lab on Monday at school, and the front page of Yahoo! Was a picture of me."

Even Wyoming running back Shaun Wick, then a prep star at St. Bonaventure High School a city away, heard about the big kid from Camarillo.

“That was before I knew him," Wick said last week. "I was like, ‘Dang, who’s this kid? He’s tall as hell!’”

The recognition, though, didn't last.

Maulhardt's recruiting process was a struggle. Many programs showed early interest, only to back off because of his lack of height or inconsistent grades. San Diego State came and went, as did UNLV.

Boise State, which Maulhardt and Wyoming plays Saturday, backed off after offensive coordinator Brent Pease -- one of Maulhardt's biggest fans -- took another job at Florida.

Having finally settled at Wyoming, Maulhardt is motivated to take to the blue turf and show the Broncos what they missed.

“It is Boise State, so I’m just excited for the game itself. But…I feel that way with a lot of the teams in this conference that talked to me," Maulhardt said, leaning forward in his seat.

"There was San Diego State, UNLV -- a lot of those schools led me on. I talked to a lot of them, but a lot of them didn’t decide to go with me, when Wyoming did.”

Maulhardt is happy with where he landed. After being a redshirt last year he battled just to make the travel team for the season opener against Nebraska.

In the games that have followed, though, he worked behind the scenes -- just as he did at Camarillo. He watched extra film. He ran extra routes. He focused on blocking.

And eventually, people noticed.

"He’s probably one of the hardest working receivers we have, if not one of the hardest working players on the team," junior receiver Dominic Rufran said. "He just has a drive to want to work harder than everybody else.

"He even says it sometimes, he feels like he’s not the most talented receiver. But he knows that he works harder than anybody on the field.”

Maulhardt picked up his first catch in the win against Idaho, and his first touchdown in the loss at San Jose State.

After watching a skinny twig of a receiver develop into a California high school record holder, Riedmiller says it's only the beginning.

"Jake has made himself, and I think he’s going to continue on doing that," Riedmiller said.

"Knowing Jake and the way he feels about his abilities, he believes he’ll be a professional football player someday.”

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Reach reporter Mike Vorel at Mike.Vorel@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeVorel.

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