From Serra to USC: Trio of wide receivers excels
During the 2011 season, college football fans all over the country learned to appreciate the steady hands and run-after-the-catch ability of then-sophomore receiver Robert Woods and the speed and playmaking ability of then-freshman receiver Marqise Lee.
The duo seemed to be perfect complements to one another.
It shouldnât come as a surprise that they performed well in tandem, though: They have been playing on the same football team and setting records together for years.
Woods, Lee and sophomore receiver George Farmer, a decorated wideout himself, all starred at Serra High School in Gardena, Calif.
âTo have three of the top people at the same school is nuts,â Lee said.
Woods is a year older than Lee and Farmer, but in the years they played together, the numbers they put up were staggering. And no one reaped the benefits like their quarterback, Conner Preston, currently a redshirt freshman at SMU.
âObviously, it made my job a lot easier,â said Preston, a two-year starter for the Cavaliers.
During his senior year at Serra, Woods caught 66 passes for 1,112 yards and 15 touchdowns. He went on to become one of the top receiver prospects in the country and was a five-star recruit. As a senior, the receiver starting across from him was Farmer, who similarly wound up as the top receiver prospect the following season.
âA lot of guys make plays around you,â Woods said. âItâs just very exciting because you see guys making plays, other guys making [people] fall and miss.â
Lee, however, did not develop as quickly on the offensive side of the ball as his counterparts. In fact, he did not start at receiver until his senior season and was recruited by most schools as a safety.
Once he moved to offense, though, he and Farmer created quite the pair: Lee grabbed 57 passes for 1,409 yards and 24 touchdowns while Farmer snagged 65 passes for 1,514 yards and 14 touchdowns. In those two seasons, Preston threw 88 touchdown passes and the team went 29-1.
âRobert was a year above us, and he was like the leader of the pack,â Preston said. âWhen I came in as a junior quarterback, Robert really helped me with the offense.â
Lee said it is incredible playing with the same receivers at the collegiate level and seeing their success continue.
âAt the end of the day, I never expected to actually play with all of them,â Lee said. âNow that I am playing with all of them, Iâm appreciative about it, that we all end up at the same place.â
The athleticism of the trio was obvious to Preston duringÂ their days at Serra. He remembered the time Lee wanted to learn how to do a backflip.
Lee saw another player do it and felt the instant urge in pregame to try it, shoulder pads, helmet and all.
âI was like, âDude, please donât do that. I donât want you to break your neck,ââ Preston said. ââWe got to win this game.ââ
Lee went for it anyway, and, by Prestonâs account, cleared it by about three feet.
âI knew I was capable of doing [a backflip], but [Farmer and I said], âWe need to try this. How do you do it?ââ Lee said. âAnd [our other teammate] was like, âJust run and hit the backflip.â So then me and George tried it and hit the backflip.â
Woods, however, was not so lucky in his attempt.
âRobert tried, but he wasnât quite successful,â Lee said, grinning.
Woods admits that jumping is not his forte. âIâm the only one out of the bunch that canât dunk,â he said.
Lee was more straightforward in his explanation.
âRobert âŠ [his] jumping ability is not that amazing,â Lee said with a laugh. âHe wasnât a big basketball player.â
Despite being a first team All-American last season, Woods is still the butt of jokes from his then-high school, now-USC teammates.
â[We make fun of him] all the time,â Lee said. âWe always have a jumping competition because we know he canât jump. [We] canât have catching competitions, because we know he can catch.â
The friendly bond between the receivers and their familiarity with one another helped make the transition for Lee a lot smoother than it could have been.
âRobert being here, a year earlier than [George and I], he provided that leadership and helped us throughout the season to learn what we needed to learn,â Lee said.
Woodsâ guidance evidently worked, as Lee was named a freshman All-American and had more than 1,143 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns during his first season on campus. And though Farmer was not a huge contributor in 2011, Woods thinks he certainly has the ability to do so.
âHe [has to] be out here in practice, honestly,â Woods said. âHis health is his main issue right now. Once he takes care of his health, I feel like he should make the plays.â
The bond of the Serra players is obvious on the USC practice field, but it goes deeper than that: Woods is in constant communication with Preston and other former teammates.
âWe still talk. For sure, once or twice a week,â Woods said.
When back home, they meet up and go back to their stomping grounds in Gardena for old timesâ sake. And even in the heart of Texas, Preston makes sure to monitor the success of his friends in cardinal and gold.
âWhen it comes to Saturdays, Iâm on the road, you know, getting to my game,â Preston said. âWhenever weâre in the hotel, I just sit down and Iâm watching George Farmer, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods on the television âŠ I feel like everywhere I turn, I see a Serra High School player on TV.â