Rufus Skillern will always remember the 2004 season. It's the year he had the best game of his career and established himself as a wide receiver.
Skillern, a fifth-year senior at San Jose State, enjoyed a 40-catch season for 588 yards, a breakout season to be sure after catching only eight balls in the previous two seasons. Included in that was a career-best 10-catch, 167-yard effort in a 56-49 overtime loss to conference champion Boise State on national television.
"That was my best game," Skillern said during Media Day interviews at the Reno Hilton last week. "It was against Boise State, it was my first 10-catch game and my second game over 100 yards receiving."
What made it even more satisfying for Skillern is that his grandmother, who would pass away later in the season, got a chance to see it.
"It was the last chance she really got to watch me play," Skillern said. "She meant a lot to me. It was great to do well for her."
And, no doubt Skillern would love to make her proud by having another successful season. With that in mind, he's set some pretty big goals this year.
"The numbers I'd love to have are 80 catches and 1,000-plus yards," said Skillern, who wants to end up as one of the top five receivers in school history. "I have a good chance as long as I continue to do what I need to do."
"Rufus is a terrific receiver," new coach Dick Tomey said. "He's very smart and tall. He runs well. We want to get mismatches against smaller backs when we can."
He'll have to do it in a more balanced West Coast offense compared to the wide-open style employed by previous head coach Fitz Hill, and he'll have Adam Tafralis throwing to him for a whole season.
"I feel we're going to be more balanced," he said. "We're going to keep defensive backs guessing. We're going to be throwing short and deep.
"Adam has a strong arm. He's a little more accurate on the deep ball. He won't be as rattled (this year)."
That fits in fine with Skillern, who has enough speed to be a deep threat and runs good enough routes and has good enough hands to be possession receiver. Skillern credits his development to former receiver coach Keith Williams. He said he's made improvement every year, and his numbers reflect that.
"He drilled me so much," Skillern said. "We worked on routes, on catching the ball and being accountable (to myself and the team).
"I wouldn't change anything. There have been a lot of good receivers come through here; a lot of talent. I've learned a lot. I don't know if I could have done this anywhere else."
And like everybody else who has ever played the game, he'd love to take his talents to the NFL.
"I try to store that in the back of my mind," Skillern said. "The season is what's important; first things first. That's definitely my goal.
"I've got to get stronger; work out in the weight room. I need to be able to get stronger and get more yards after the catch."
The Skillern File
Birthplace: Oakland, Calif.
High School: Skyline High
Position: Wide receiver
Year in School: Senior
n Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281