It was the first practice of Robert Foster's high-school career and a coach told him to "go wide."
This wasn't where Foster envisioned his star to rise. He was a midget-league standout running with the football, not catching it.
Then, that same assistant coach at Monaca High School told Foster the running back to go wide and run. Straight. As fast as he could.
"I ran right between two people and caught the ball," Foster said.
They immediately should have sent out birth announcements for this Foster child. A star receiver was born.
Three years after that day of position transformation, after speeding through his receiver infancy stage, Robert Foster III just might be one of the most unusual players in WPIAL history. Go ahead and call him RFIII.
It has been well-documented what Western Pennsylvania has produced at quarterback.
Other high school players from this area have gone on to big things at linebacker, offensive line and other positions.
Scan through the all-time list of NFL players from the WPIAL and you'll see loads of players from those positions. But big-time receivers? Nah. They come from Florida, Texas, California or even Ohio. That's why Foster is a Western Pennsylvania rarity.
Foster is a senior at Central Valley High School in Beaver County and one of the few receivers in the WPIAL over the years who has been so heavily recruited and so highly touted. Foster is ranked among the top 10 receivers in the country by scouting services. Scout.com ranks him No. 2, Super Prep magazine him No. 4 and Rivals.com No. 8.
Foster's college recruiting tells you plenty about his talent. This summer, he narrowed his list of schools to seven -- Pitt, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon and Southern California.
"For whatever reason, receivers aren't a commodity here," said Joe Butler, longtime WPIAL scout for Metro Index Scouting who also helps run Scouting Pennsylvania. "You can go back to Gordon Jones [of East Allegheny] when he was a big-time receiver recruit in the 1970s, but we haven't had many of those types. But I think Foster and the Tyler Boyd kid at Clairton are both big-time receivers. They're national-type receivers."
Jones went on to become an All-American at Pitt and played in the NFL, but scouting services weren't around when Jones played. No one ranked players across the country. Aliquippa's Jonathan Baldwin (a first-round NFL draft pick a few years ago out of Pitt) is one of the few Western Pennsylvania receivers in the past few decades who has garnered as much attention as Foster.
Foster's receiver toolbox is too full to shut. He has good size (6 feet 2, 185 pounds), good hands and Central Valley coach Mark Lyons claims Foster's route-running is impeccable.
Then, there is that speed.
The kid whose favorite food is gnocchi will knock your socks off with his speed.
He started showing it as a sophomore when Foster moved into a new school. Monaca and Center high schools merged to form Central Valley, and Foster played a big role in helping Central Valley win the WPIAL Class AAA championship in its first year.
Some college coaches and recruiting gurus say Foster has speed you usually see from receivers in Florida or Texas. Don't ask Foster what his time is in the 40-yard dash because he doesn't know. But everyone else knows he is fast. In two words, real fast.
"He has that great burst of speed I like to look at and scouts like to look at between 5 and 15 yards," Butler said. "They time you in a 40-yard dash, but football is a 20-yard game. That's where you get everything done, and he really has that speed in that 20-yard area."
Foster also plays defensive back for Central Valley and is an excellent kick-returner. In addition, he will take a few handoffs in games and scored on a 2-yard run in the opener against New Castle.
Foster was a Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 selection as a junior. and Lyons believes Foster is better this season. Foster caught eight passes last week.
"You'd think maybe he couldn't be better, but he really is," Lyons said. "All the college scouts who came through in the spring were pleasantly surprised on where he's at with his running routes.
"Our receivers coach [Adam Caltury] has done a great job with him. The speed is there, and I think he's gotten thicker."
Foster is a teenager who doesn't like doing media interviews and said he rarely will talk to a reporter from an Internet site.
"I don't really like the media. I just don't like the attention," Foster said. "I feel like there are a lot of other athletes in this world who can do the things I do. Someone can do the exact same stuff as me, so I don't pay a lot of attention to the hype. God gave everyone a gift, so just use it."
The son of Robert Foster II, a former basketball player at famed Midland High School, this Foster lives with his father while his mother, Sherrice, lives in Philadelphia. Foster claims he is very religious because of a commitment he made to his mom a few years ago.
"She always wanted me to go to church. If it wasn't for church, I probably wouldn't still be alive," Foster said.
Foster regularly plays the drums weekly at his church (Greater Faith Family Worship) in Industry.
Lyons and others who know Foster said this is a teenager who doesn't realize how good he is. He is also a little naive when it comes to college recruiting. Foster insisted he has no college favorite and won't make a decision for a while.
"There was one time this spring Oklahoma was supposed to come in to see him," Lyons said.
"So I see him later in the day and I ask him if Oklahoma was in. He says, 'Are their colors red and white?' I tell him 'Yeah.' He says, 'Coach, are they Division I?' "
Foster is a big fan of "Twitter" although he admits a few of his "tweets" in the past have gotten him in some hot water (his Twitter user name is @DROBFoster_4). Lyons has tried to counsel Foster on being careful with things like Twitter.
"I just want to be a regular kid and enjoy my last high school year," Foster said. "It's hard. I can't walk down the street without someone knowing me or asking what I'm going to do for college. I don't want myself to be out there so much, but I have to get used to it."hsfootball