Jeff Maehl proves skeptics wrong

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jeff Maehl walked into a media conference for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game on Thursday wearing a gray Oregon sweatshirt that looked too big for him. Long, stringy black hair spilled out the back of a big, green hat with a yellow O that was pulled low over his forehead.

In short, Maehl looked like the Washington State of eyeball tests.

"Basketball was actually the sport I thought I was going to end up playing in college, a smaller D-I level, something like that," Maehl said.

Maehl is 6-foot-1, 184 pounds, with narrow shoulders and a narrower waist. This is not news to him. He hears about it when he steps onto the field.

"Guys are going to say what they want to say, and I'm going to say something back," Maehl said. "They might call you skinny. I can't really say. It gets a little graphic out there."

Maehl is used to the skepticism. People don't often make it past the first look with him. Cornerbacks, especially, seem to have trouble keeping their eye on him. That this too-skinny, too-small wide receiver will start his 42nd game for the Ducks speaks to his durability. That he is an All-Pacific-10 Conference wideout who caught 68 passes for 943 yards and 12 touchdowns this season speaks to his talent.

"My mentality as a football player in general is I know that I'm not the biggest player out there, obviously," Maehl said. "I got to be a little physical myself so I can bring the hit to them and not absorb so much."

He is everything a young quarterback would want. Sophomore Darron Thomas has made Maehl his favorite receiver for a reason.

"Jeff is one of those guys who, if two or three guys are on him, he still wants the ball," Thomas said. "He comes up with the big catches. Jeff wants the ball regardless of who's on him. He wants the ball to be in his hands. He wants to make the big play."

Maehl decided to commit to Oregon because, well, no one else had offered him a scholarship. And he got Oregon's attention only because his dad, Steve, played football with Ducks secondary coach John Neal at Foothill (Calif.) Junior College.

Maehl started out at Oregon playing for Neal on the defensive side of the ball. In November of his freshman year, injuries left the Ducks needing receivers. Maehl seized the opportunity. By the end of the season, he had made nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. That's an athlete. His teammates vouch for his natural ability.

"He surprises people on the basketball court," Thomas said. "He's really an all-around athlete. He can jump out of the gym. He surprises people all around. People don't think he's good. Once they play him, and after the game, they come at him, 'Oh, man, you're a good guy.'"

Word of his basketball skills has gotten around campus. Ducks coach Dana Altman approached him this fall about playing after football season. Maehl declined. Proving people wrong in one sport is enough.

"That's something that motivated me a lot, too," Maehl said. "If people think I'm not a good football player because of my size and my speed. That's something that motivates me and makes me want to be better every day."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.