Phillip Blanks played wide receiver at a college in Southern California.
But the greatest catch he ever made in his life came long after his playing career ended.
Heart-stopping video shows Blanks diving to catch a 3-year-old boy thrown off the balcony of an apartment fire in Phoenix on July 3.
"Instinct. There wasn't much thinking. I just reacted. I just did it," he told Eyewitness News in recalling the moment.
The 28-year-old says he was raised with the mindset of always looking to help others: He served in the U.S. Marines and now works in the security industry.
And of course his time as a wide receiver at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo in 2016-17 was a big help too.
"I know how to catch," he says. "I've learned how to catch a football. So I'll give some credit to football."
That day, he says, he was home when he heard a lot of commotion outside his building. Thinking perhaps there was a fight or some other disturbance, he went to look.
Then he heard someone yell there was a fire. He grabbed some things and ran outside barefoot.
He immediately focused on the patio, saw what was about to happen and ran up just in time.
"He was twirling in the air like a propeller," he recalled. "I just did my best. His head landed perfectly on my elbow. His ankle got twisted up as I was diving. The guy who was there with me - it looked like he wasn't going to catch him. So that's why I stepped in. I just wanted to make a better catch."
While the child was saved, his mother died in the fire. The 30-year-old woman's last action was to fling her son to safety as she herself was already covered in flames.
"She's the real hero of the story," Blanks said. "Because she made the ultimate sacrifice to save her children."