As the ball arced toward him, Florida State sophomore receiver Jarmon Fortson slowed just enough to launch himself skyward. He then had to contort his body as if he were a lithe yoga instructor.
Once corralling the ball, Fortson had to stick his left foot into the sod.
"First of all, it's catch the ball and then it's just hurry up and put a foot down," Fortson said of his sideline dance for a 17-yard touchdown Oct. 10 against Georgia Tech. "It really comes down to instinct."
"That play was just ridiculous," junior quarterback Christian Ponder raved. "The guy's a freak, and that play shows the ability he has."
It's the kind of play the Seminoles (2-4, 0-3 ACC) need more often to finish the season on a high beginning tonight at North Carolina (4-2, 0-2).
It's the kind of play Fortson has needed ever since his season began on a low.
'I let the team down'
As the ball sank toward him, Fortson squared his body, dropped to his knees in the end zone and curled his arms for a basket catch; a catch that would give FSU a dramatic win against Miami on the game's final play.
He dropped the ball.
"I had never been at a point where I had to win the game for my team," Fortson said of the 38-34 loss, "and I let the team down."
It didn't seem to matter to folks that the Seminoles had chances earlier to seal a win in the season opener on Labor Day. It didn't seem to matter that Ponder, who was rolling to his right and mentally scrolling from his first to his second and, finally, to his third option, admitted he could have made a better throw. It certainly didn't matter to Fortson.
He cried that night.
And that was before he logged on to his Facebook page and read some of the stinging messages from fans that were interspersed among supportive ones from cyberspace friends.
"I sat there that night and watched a replay with my family," said Fortson, 20, who calls himself his toughest critic under even the best of circumstances. "I dropped, like, three balls and two touchdowns in that game. My family was trying to say, 'It's your first big game.' But I've been practicing for this. I should have made the play. It hurt me pretty bad, pretty deep."
"It killed him," coach Bobby Bowden said. "Oh, it killed him. I felt so sorry for him. It's kind of like the poor ol' field goal kicker who goes and misses the winning field goal."
Beating his demons
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher recognized Fortson's confidence had plummeted just like some of those FSU kickers of yesteryear, some of whom never fully recovered emotionally.
But he didn't soften his demanding, in-your-face style. He also assured Fortson he would continue to call his number. Meanwhile, Ponder and the rest of the Seminoles stressed they needed him, they believed in him and he had to respond.
Fortson did during the next week in practice.
"We ran the same play that happened in the Miami game, and I made the catch like 10 times," the 6-foot-3, 223-pounder said. "That got my mind off of it. That helped me move on."
Fortson, looking more confident, had a career day with seven catches for 77 yards in the 49-44 loss to Georgia Tech. That included snaring a deflected ball before it could be intercepted.
For the season, he's third on the team with 21 catches and 244 yards and is tied for the lead in touchdown receptions with two. He had just eight catches for 137 yards and a touchdown in 10 games last season.
"He ran hard, was physical in the game and when he got the ball in his hands, went up and controlled his body and fought for the ball," Fisher said after the Georgia Tech loss. "But there's still some things he can do if he wants to be that elite player to take it to another level."
Such as don't drop what would have been a big gainer.
Such as don't commit a potentially drive-killing penalty.
"If I mess up a play, I think, 'That's one step back, so I have to take two steps forward,' " said Fortson, who followed a holding penalty with a 12-yard catch against the Yellow Jackets.
"There's going to be fans out there who are going to hate me for that (Miami) play. But I'm going to make them love me one day for something else."