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How Deon Cain went from lifelong quarterback to NFL-bound receiver

The Tampa Bay Tech product will likely be an early-round NFL draft pick, thanks to the unpopular suggestion of a 7-on-7 coach.
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Published Apr. 23, 2018

TAMPA — Ricky Sailor thought his colleague had lost his mind.

Sailor's Unsigned Preps 7-on-7 team had one of the area's most promising young quarterbacks, Deon Cain. So why would one of his coaches, Carlos Blake, want to risk injury and burn bridges by moving Cain to receiver, a position he had never played before?

Sailor was incredulous. He was unhappy.

And he was … wrong.

"(Blake) was right," Sailor said. "He discovered a first-round pick."

First round could be a little high; Cain might last until the second or third round of this week's NFL draft.

Regardless of where he ends up, the Tampa Bay Tech product's journey from lifelong quarterback to NFL-bound receiver began with Blake at a 7-on-7 tournament.

Cain was Unsigned Preps' backup quarterback behind Jefferson High's Deiondre Porter, who won the Guy Toph Award as Hillsborough County's top player a few months later. The receiving corps was loaded with Division I recruits: Nate Craig-Myers (Auburn), Isaac Holder (Eastern Michigan), Ray-Ray McCloud (Clemson) and Tajee Fullwood (USF).

But a few of those receivers were tired from the summer, south Florida heat. That's when Blake suggested giving Cain a shot.

Deon Cain had a successful career as Tampa Bay Tech’s quarterback before becoming a college receiver. (Times file)
Deon Cain had a successful career as Tampa Bay Tech’s quarterback before becoming a college receiver. (Times file)

Blake is an assistant at TBT, so he had seen Cain mess around after practice, challenging teammates to guard him one-on-one and leaping over them. Blake knew he could succeed — if Sailor would let him.

Sailor didn't want to mess up his high school team's plans or chemistry by making Cain think he was a receiver. He also didn't want to deal with TBT coach Jayson Roberts if his starting quarterback hurt himself playing out of position during the offseason.

Sailor's response: What the heck are you doing?

"I was screaming and fussing," Sailor said.

"I'll take the screaming, and I'll take the fussing," Blake said. "I'm telling you, this kid might be the best receiver on this team."

Cain got a shot, then had a catch on one of his first snaps. On his second drive, he laid out for a touchdown on third and long. And by the end of his second game, Sailor's tone changed.

"It changed from 'Get him out of there,' to 'Why is he not in there?' " Blake said.

After the tournament, Sailor told Cain that he had a new long-term position. Cain wasn't sure, but he trusted his coaches.

"It just went on from there," Cain said.

Even though he only caught six passes in high school, his potential sent him to Clemson as the nation's No. 2 receiving prospect in 2015.

He has an NFL frame (6-foot-2, 202 pounds). He's fast; only five receivers at the combine beat his 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds). He's agile; his three-cone shuttle time (6.71) ranked fifth. And he's confident.

"He knows he's good," Sailor said. "He has all the confidence in the world to believe that he can catch any ball at any time."

RELATED: College Football Playoff: Deon Cain's road to redemption could bring him home

Cain's college career had its ups (winning the 2017 national title in his hometown) and downs (two suspensions as a freshman). In three years before leaving early for the draft, he caught 130 balls for 2,040 yards. His 20 touchdown catches are tied for fourth-most in school history, behind first-round picks Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Mike Williams.

Not bad for someone still learning the nuances of the position.

"He really just now, I think, has the foundation in place to be a great receiver," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

All thanks to an assistant coach's bold suggestion, and stubbornness, five years ago.