One year ago, when he was in a hospital bed instead of on the football field, Marcus Rios’ game-saving moment was one he thought he might never have.
It’s easy to point to UCLA’s three turnovers and say that they were the story in Saturday’s win over California. Or you could say that UCLA’s first win at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley in 16 years was the story.
But really, it was about Rios playing the hero right in the backyard of his hometown.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff, the second-most efficient passer in a conference full of them, was within striking distance. Ready to put the game away against a scuffling UCLA squad and finally earn a signature win for the rebuilding Golden Bears, Goff lofted the football up high and into the corner of the end zone.
Rios tracked it down and hauled it in over his back shoulder to save the game and give the Bruins a win that might serve as a catalyst to repairing their season.
"I saw double wide receivers out there so i just decided to bail for the fade," Rios said. "I knew they were going to try me on the fade and I just saw the ball in the air and just caught it."
It sounded easier — and looked easier — than it really was.
Rios is still not the player he wants to be or knows he can be. He’s still building up to that point and more importantly, building back his strength after a rare and aggressive fungal infection nearly took his life. What started out as a sinus infection in the fall of 2012, what should have been his freshman year, turned out to be a life-threatening illness.
But he overcame it — he walked out of the hospital and back on to the football field.
The 6-foot cornerback Rios was down to only 135 pounds but has added on 40 more. He hasn’t played much this season, only one game, but he’s been effective when he has. But the Golden Bears didn’t get that memo. They decided to test his inexperience.
It was Cal that failed the test, while Rios, who grew up less than two hours away in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, passed.
"I knew they were coming at me," he said. "I knew they were going to try and try me, because I haven’t played that much during the season so they figured, OK, I’m pretty much like a brand new freshman. It’s the first time I played since I don’t know how long, so i knew they were going to try and come at me."
It was an emotional moment for the entire team.
"He’s gone through a lot, had to overcome a lot," defensive lineman Owa Odighizuwa said. "For him to make that play was just incredible. There’s nobody else who is more perfect for that situation than Marcus."