Devon Cajuste is headed to the NFL. The Seaford native signed with the San Francisco 49ers on April 30.
After standout high school and college careers, which included three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances with Stanford University, Cajuste went unselected in the recent NFL draft, but within minutes had offers to sign as a free agent. He chose the 49ers so he could stay close to his college.
“It’s super exciting,” said Cajuste (pronounced ka-JOOST), who primarily plays receiver. “I’m just more anxious than anything. I’m blessed that I get this opportunity.”
Cajuste, 23, got his start playing football with the Seaford-based Long Island Broncos, before continuing his youth career with the Valley Stream Green Hornets. He also played football at Seaford Middle School.
He was a three-year varsity starter for Holy Cross High School in Flushing, Queens, from which he graduated in 2011. Cajuste was All-Queens Player of the Year and All-City Player of the Year from 2009 to 2011. He also played varsity basketball and ran track.
His former coach, Tom Pugh, remembers Cajuste as a dominating player who also excelled in the classroom.
“He’s just a tremendous athlete,” Pugh said. “I’m extremely happy for him. The 49ers and Stanford are pretty close by, so he’s staying in the area. He’s going to have an opportunity to show himself.”
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Cajuste is hoping to crack the 49ers’ 53-man roster, which would give him the chance to play for new head coach Chip Kelly. With San Francisco coming off just a five-win season, Pugh said he believes that Cajuste will have every opportunity to make the roster of a team that is looking for a spark.
He had the chance to showcase his skills at the NFL Scouting Combine, Feb. 23-29 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. There, he and other college players performed for NFL coaches, general managers and scouts. Pugh said that the quickness Cajuste showed during the camp opened a lot of eyes.
“I feel it really made an impression,” Cajuste said, adding that it was his “foot in the door” with the NFL, ultimately leading to his contract with the 49ers.
He spent this past weekend at a rookie mini-camp, and will now work out with the team for the next several weeks. After a three-week break, he will return for training camp, before pre-season games start.
In his bid to make the team, he said he needs to work harder than everyone else. “You’ve got to show your dedication,” he said. “Everyone’s got talent.”
Getting his start
Cajuste, when he was 10, played one year for the Broncos under Marty Dolley and Wayne Podmeyer, wearing No. 3. After that, he joined the Valley Stream Green Hornets, near where his father lived in West Hempstead. He played several years for the organization, including two seasons on varsity.
Bobby Hawkey, now the president of the league, was then his offensive coordinator. He said that Cajuste’s size — he was almost 6 feet tall as a 14-year-old — had other coaches questioning if he was actually older, but he knew how to use his size to his advantage.
“He was an asset when he played on my team,” Hawkey said. “He was a standout ballplayer. You knew that this kid was going places.”
Hawkey said that he has been following Cajuste’s career, and is happy to see the success he’s had. “When you see a guy who played Green Hornets and you’re watching him on television on Saturday afternoon, it’s a great honor,” Hawkey said. “I’m proud to have had a chance to coach Devon. He’s going to have a great career in the NFL.”
Cajuste recruited by Stanford and received a full scholarship. He was a medical red-shirt in 2011 season, with a torn ACL and MCL suffered four days before the season started
In his four-year college career, totaling 40 games, Cajuste had 90 receptions for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Stanford Cardinal went to the Rose Bowl three times, and Cajuste was part of a team that beat Iowa 45-16 on New Year’s Day 2016 before a crowd of more than 64,000 fans.
Cajuste described the Rose Bowl as the Super Bowl of college football. He grew up rooting for the Dallas Cowboys, who won the Super Bowl in the Rose Bowl in 1993, so playing there was extra special for him.
While football was a big part of his college life, “Academics came first,” he said. He studied life science and biotechnology, and he has a standing offer to work in the Lokey Stem Cell Building as a research assistant to help find cures for cancer. If he has a prolonged NFL career, he said, he would like go to medical school after finishing.
It was a combination of Stanford’s football and science programs that drew him to the school. “I’m a math and science guy,” he said. “I’ve always loved to figure out how the world works.”
Pugh said that Cajuste played four musical instruments in high school, and noted that his work in the classroom and on the football earned him offers from 35 colleges early in his junior year.
Cajuste said his mother, Andrea, and father, Gregory, have been his biggest supporters. His mother still lives in Seaford and Cajuste was home with her until leaving for California for mini-camp.
His “brothers” are his teammates. While he loves the physical aspect of the game, he said he was drawn to football because of the camaraderie. The sport has taught him how to trust others and look beyond himself. “You’re not only playing for yourself,” he said, “you’re playing for your teammates.”
Cajuste said that his road to the NFL has been filled with ups and downs, and any failures have only made him stronger. He added that his mission has always been to work hard to make the most of his talent. “I know it’s really cliché,” he said, “but don’t give up. I’ve been told I can’t make it this far for a long time, but here I am.”