Camarillo beats the averages for Dolphins

DAVIE, Fla. -- Chances are, at least one person in your family is every bit the athlete Greg Camarillo is.

He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at his pro workout day before the draft. He wears size medium gloves.

Drive toward the illuminated light stanchions in your town on a Friday night and look through the chain-link fence. You'll see high school players who fit Camarillo's general description.

Those kids could play in the NFL, too. They almost certainly won't. If it was that easy, then Camarillo's story wouldn't be considered exceptional.

"I'm still amazed by it sometimes," Camarillo said while hunkered over a plastic plate of barbeque chicken, rice and beans at his stall in the Miami Dolphins locker room. "I wasn't supposed to be here.

"Pretty much every step of my journey I wasn't supposed to take the next step. Odds were against me. That's how my athletic career has been. I've always been the underdog, and I kind of like that."

Unrecruited, unable to score in college, not invited to the scouting combine and undrafted is not a good formula for becoming a go-to NFL target.

Yet Camarillo, who forever will be remembered as the hero who saved the Dolphins from the embarrassment of a winless season last year, leads them with 32 catches for 372 yards and a touchdown.

He has more catches than last year's ninth overall draft pick (Ted Ginn) and has started every game, while a handsomely paid offseason acquisition (Ernest Wilford) and a 2006 third-round pick (Derek Hagan) watch in street clothes.

"He's a guy that from the day that I walked in the door here has done nothing but make plays," Dolphins first-year head coach Tony Sparano said. "Every practice that I'm out there, Camarillo separates from somebody, makes a play, dives for a ball, makes a great catch, beats somebody that he's not maybe on paper not supposed to beat in man-to-man coverage."

Of the 32 NFL players leading their teams in receptions, Camarillo is the unlikeliest.

Without looking at the others, Camarillo agreed with that statement.

"I don't know the stories of all the other guys," Camarillo said, "but I would assume they were drafted and probably make millions of dollars. Most of them haven't been cut."

None of them evolved as football players like Camarillo did.

Camarillo was an undersized star at Menlo-Atherton High in California. He was the kicker, punter, receiver and defensive end. He's still proud that had the most sacks his senior year.

"When somebody makes fun of me for being a small guy or a weak guy, I always bring that up," Camarillo said.

And that's how most of us bring up our glory days, looking back on that memorable high school season or game at reunions or the neighborhood gin mill. But Camarillo wasn't ready to render football a nostalgic part of his past when he went to college.

Camarillo -- a student body president, National Honor Society member and American Legion state delegate -- looked at academics first when shopping for a college. He visited Harvard and Penn.

But football was the deciding factor. He could've played right away in the Ivy League, but walking on for a school that could go to the Rose Bowl captivated him. His father, Al Camarillo, also is a history professor at Stanford.

But not even walking on was simple for Greg Camarillo.

Ben Parks, a legendary wrestling coach at Menlo-Atherton and personal trainer for Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, loved the way Camarillo carried himself. Parks' was a neighbor of Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham and lobbied hard.

Camarillo was granted a walk-on spot -- as a punter. He redshirted his first year, and after badgering Willingham enough to be included in receiver drills, eventually earned a scholarship before his third season.

Camarillo finished his Stanford career with 46 catches for 613 yards, but never scored a college touchdown.

Albert Camarillo, just as he did when his son graduated from Menlo-Atherton, figured that would be that in terms of football. His son showed an aptitude for building contraptions as a youngster and earned a prestigious Stanford degree.

He should be working on patents, not pass patterns.

"We expected him to have an engineering career by this time," Al Camarillo said with a laugh. "There were no expectations at all playing after Stanford, but it was clear he felt he didn't reach his potential in college and just wanted to give it whatever shot he could, whether the Canadian Football League or NFL Europe.

"It was clear he wasn't going to go to the combine. He wanted to [work out for pro scouts] and see what the potential was, but there was no expectation anybody would pick him up."

The San Diego Chargers saw something they liked and brought him to camp. They cut him but re-signed him to their practice squad for the entire 2005 season.

And that was going to be that, right?

"We were all just delighted he made the practice squad in San Diego," Al Camarillo said. "We thought 'If he makes it, terrific, if not at least he can say he made an NFL team.' "

Greg Camarillo found his way into four games in 2006, but was waived after 2007 training camp. Dolphins coach Cam Cameron, who had been the Chargers' offensive coordinator, snagged him.

He became a permanent footnote in Dolphins history Dec. 16, when he ran a skinny post to get behind the Baltimore Ravens' secondary and score a 64-yard overtime touchdown. The Dolphins finished 1-15.

The play was such a thunderbolt, the Dolphins radio crew called him "Rich Camarillo" as he romped into the end zone.

"I love Greg Camarillo and I wish he were here in Buffalo," said Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, his Stanford teammate. "I feel like he would fit well in this offense, too. They have a great wide receiver there."

Even so, Camarillo looked like he might be a numbers casualty in training camp this year. The Dolphins signed free agents Wilford, David Kircus and Tab Perry and brought in a half-dozen unsigned rookies. The Dolphins also considered signing Terry Glenn.

"We had a bunch of receivers in camp," Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said. "It could have gone any way, depending on how your last couple weeks of camp worked. He pushed through and had some great days in camp. Now he's our leading receiver."

So how does Camarillo do it with such ordinary athletic abilities?

"His intelligence," Sparano said. "You say 'Well, how come it's not one of these physical things?' It's really not.

"Camarillo runs well enough. He catches it well enough. He does all of those things. He's quicker than he is fast at the line of scrimmage, but more importantly he has a plan every single time that he gets to the ball.

"He is very friendly to the quarterback. He shows up for them. If, all of a sudden, something happens within the route where he's taken away a little bit, he's got a knack of uncovering himself and working back to the quarterback."

Camarillo is meticulous when it comes to patterns and technique. He must to gain separation against quicksilver NFL defensive backs.

"If he wasn't a good route runner, then I don't think he would be here," said Fasano, who leads Miami with three touchdown catches. "But one of the reasons he's here is how smart he is. He not only knows the offense and X's and O's, he knows he has to be a route runner to work on that."

Camarillo clearly is soaking up his NFL experience. He gladly accommodates every interview request. He loves receiving fan mail (up to 10 pieces a week from two a year in San Diego), and he still can't believe he finally has his own trading card.

He leaps up from his half-eaten lunch to grab a card from his locker.

"I had a card this year for the first time in my life," he said proudly. "That was great. As a kid, I collected a lot of cards. I was on the practice squad and didn't have a card. Then I was active, but didn't really play. When you're on special teams, they don't get you a card for that.

"Then one day in the mail, I get this card. Some people print out their homemade ones, and I first looked at it and said 'This is one heck of a homemade card.' It was a real card!"

Camarillo hands over card No. 162 from the Score set. He's running toward the photographer, the ball tucked under his right arm. His helmet is on, obscuring his face to the point it could be anybody in his jersey.

"Hey, it's me!" Camarillo said. "All that matters!

"It's little things like this. ... You hope for something like that."