True story. When Drew Haddad was a senior at national power St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, he was recruited by, among others, Miami University, Bowling Green, Villanova and Youngstown State. But most schools were interested in him as a defensive back.
"They said I didn't have good enough hands to play receiver," Haddad said. "What a joke, huh?"
After 160 receptions and more than 2,000 yards in a stellar career, you might say Haddad and the University at Buffalo have had the last laugh.
There may be better receivers than Haddad, but few can match his productivity. The senior already owns 10 school records, including catches and yards in a season and career receptions. With 22 receiving yards in Saturday's game at Connecticut, he will pass Chris D'Amico (2,331) for No. 1 on UB's all-time career list.
Haddad also is UB's best punt returner ever, ranking first in career (562) and single-season (410) yardage and career (16.7) and single-season average (17.8). Barring injury, he could get the 896 all-purpose yards needed to pass Alan Bell's school record of 4,321.
"I have probably not stated enough or publicly given enough praise to Drew," UB coach Craig Cirbus said. "He's certainly set a very high standard of excellence for others to follow."
"To have accomplished so much here is nice because I didn't know what to expect when I came to Buffalo," Haddad said. "All the records and that other stuff just fell into place."
At 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, Haddad isn't blessed with great size or blazing speed (his best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.58 seconds). However, he uses great quickness and slick moves to get off the line of scrimmage, and he runs terrific pass routes that allow him to slip away from defenders.
Haddad displayed his knack for getting open against Akron last Saturday, burning the secondary for a 32-yard touchdown.
Oh, and one more thing. Haddad's hands aren't too shabby, either.
"It's great having Drew out there," UB quarterback Joe Freedy said. "If you just put the ball within his grasp, he's going to get it."
Based on productivity alone, Haddad is the finest player Cirbus has recruited at UB. What's surprising is how the Bulls got him in the first place.
Haddad played for a St. Ignatius program that won two high school national championships and three straight Ohio Division I state titles during his career. The Wildcats were so strong that 13 members of Haddad's senior class were signed to major college scholarships. Among them were nose tackle Chris Hovan, in his fourth year as a starter at Boston College, starting outside linebacker John Favret of Wisconsin, starting defensive tackle Jamie Bennett of Colorado State, starting middle linebacker Chris Della Vella of Bowling Green and tight end Dan O'Leary of Notre Dame.
"That was an exceptional football team," St. Ignatius coach Chuck Kyle said. "We had a lot of success with some really terrific players, and Drew was very much a key to that success."
However, no Division I-A college offered Haddad a scholarship, even though he made the all-state team after 45 catches for more than 700 yards and nine touchdowns during Ignatius' national title season in 1995.
"Obviously, Division I teams have their own formula when evaluating players," Kyle said. "But I
knew if Drew was in the right situation, he would excel."
That situation was in I-AA Buffalo, which was more than happy to give Haddad a chance.
"I wanted to play college football at the highest level possible, and I chose UB because I knew I would get the opportunity to play right away," said Haddad, whose brother, Eric, is St. Ignatius' all-time leading rusher and later was a star fullback at Purdue.
"I knew I could play Division I ball. Playing at Ignatius against the kind of talent we had really prepares you for the next level."
Haddad played every game for the Bulls as a true freshman. He finished third on the team with 21 catches for 282 yards and two touchdowns as UB enjoyed its finest season (8-3) in more than a decade.
The best was still to come for Haddad, who made a school-record 67 catches and became UB's first 1,000-yard receiver (1,058) as a sophomore. He had a career-best 174 yards on eight catches in one half against Illinois State before missing the rest of the game with a knee injury.
For an encore, Haddad caught 67 more balls for 911 yards and scored two of his seven touchdowns on punt returns last season. He had 173 yards on 11 catches at eventual I-AA national champion Massachusetts and a career-high 12 grabs for 132 yards and 94-yard return for a TD at Cornell. He added 262 all-purpose yards, including 166 receiving and an 82-yard punt return for a score, at Liberty.
"As much as Drew has accomplished on the field, people do not see the things he does behind the scenes," Cirbus said. "He is the consummate leader of a program. He's a great individual, one who will do whatever it takes to help the team be successful."
Success in the Mid-American Conference means everything to Haddad. He remembers all the MAC schools that didn't think he was good enough to play for them. At least, not as a receiver.
"I have always felt that I had a point to prove to those schools," he said. "I grew up in the heart of MAC country, so it will be nice to come back home. It will be even nicer to play well and show everyone that UB has arrived."