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Steal of the NFL draft? How about Marques Colston?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Marques Colston's rise from little known Division I-AA prospect to one of Drew Brees' go-to receivers has been so sudden, even his coach couldn't see it coming.

``If we loved him we would have drafted him in the third round or the fourth round, so we liked him,'' new Saints coach Sean Payton said of the seventh-rounder out of Division I-AA Hofstra. Payton's eyes were smiling as if he'd just been dealt 21 at a blackjack table.

``We thought he had all those tools that are necessary and yet there's that uncertainty as to all the other things. So I'm excited about a young player.''

Colston made four clutch catches in the Saints' season-opening victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. All came on third downs _ three for first downs, the other for New Orleans' only touchdown.

He was not even certain to make the roster on draft day, yet Colston strolled calmly from the end zone after his first NFL touchdown. His veteran quarterback was the one who looked like the excitable rookie, leaping up to smack the 6-foot-4 receiver on the helmet and shoulder pads.

``He's a big-play receiver. He's a possession receiver, he's a throw-it-up-and-let-him-jump and-get-it receiver,'' Brees said. ``I don't think he's limited in any way. So that makes it exciting for me.''

Colston said he remembers the play, a short crossing route which he finished by diving across the goal line between a pair of defenders, but very little about his subsequent walk to the sideline with teammates engulfing him.

``It's such a long season. I'm trying not to allow myself to have peaks and valleys _ keep it level as much as possible,'' said Colston, who also had one lowlight when a potential big gain on a flea-flicker was slapped from his hands.

``I'm just trying to be professional about it. You start taking things for more than they're worth, that's when you get in trouble.''

His tendency to be calm may be hereditary. Colston's mother was among 14 relatives and close friends who drove to Cleveland from their homes in Pennsylvania to see the young receiver's debut.

When they met after the game, ``My mom came down and said: 'Was that you that scored?''' Colston recalled. Her deadpan delivery had him uncertain whether she was joking at first.

On the field and in the locker room, Colston is quiet and rarely animated. The introspective, former psychology student spends much of his free time relaxing in front of the television, generally keeping to himself and rarely going out.

``He has a very calm personality. He's very composed. ... He's never been a player who showboats or draws attention to himself,'' said Hofstra wide receivers coach Jaime Elizondo, whom Colston still calls weekly. ``He lost his father in his teen years and I think that had an effect on him.''

Colston also had to overcome a shoulder injury that kept him out of the 2004 season.

``That made him mature and appreciate how much he loved the game,'' Elizondo said.

Colston returned the following season, making 70 catches for 975 yards and five touchdowns, including a 74-yard score on a screen in which he made some defenders miss, broke a few tackles and ended up on the far sideline.

``He probably ran 140 yards on that particular play,'' Elizondo recalled. ``He made a lot of people miss. He really should have been tackled because the blocking wasn't great. He did a lot of that work on his own.''

Colston was only 180 pounds coming out of a small high school in Susquehanna Township, Pa. Major college programs never noticed him.

``I really wasn't a hot prospect,'' he said.

At Hofstra, which has produced several current and former pros, including Wayne Chrebet, Colston slowly grew into a prototypical NFL receiver, building a sturdy 230-pound frame around his exceptional height.

In training camp, Colston showed he could run well, adjust to the ball in the air and make graceful leaping catches on high throws, arms extended above his head like a ballet dancer as he snared the ball with his hands.

``He's a good matchup on anybody man-to-man just because he's such a big target, and he's a guy I feel very confident throwing to,'' Brees said. ``Keep in mind that every cornerback that stands next to Colston is a small cornerback.''

Saints coaches started playing him with the first team during preseason, then traded last season's leading receiver, Donte' Stallworth, to Philadelphia in exchange for a much-needed linebacker.

On opening week, at least, the logic behind the deal played out. New linebacker Mark Simoneau started for a defense that held the Browns to 186 total yards and only 85 yards rushing. And while Stallworth had a touchdown catch, so, too, did Colston.

``I knew he was going to be a catch for somebody, just having coached the kid, knowing his demeanor, how much he loved the game, how he understood defenses,'' Elizondo said. ``I also knew his best football was still ahead of him.''
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