SANTA CLARA -- BREAKS HAVE BEEN more on the order of heartbreaks for Cameron Colvin as long as anyone can remember. That's why Day 1 of the 49ers minicamp Friday was so meaningful for the De La Salle alumnus. There he was, wearing a red No. 81 jersey, on the practice field adjacent to the railroad tracks where one of his favorites, Jerry Rice, once caught passes from Joe Montana. Time to catch a few of his own.

Colvin had not arrived with fanfare. He was not a draft choice, even though he had been led to believe the 49ers might draft him. He understood the circumstances. An ankle that had shattered in October when his Oregon Ducks were playing Washington State had required surgery in December -- insertion of a titanium plate held down by seven screws.

It was not minor surgery. But when the 49ers -- who had invited him in mid-April to work out then watched him torch an admittedly less than stellar group of defenders -- called after the draft to ask him in as an undrafted rookie free agent, Colvin's response was immediate. It was yes to San Francisco, thanks but no thanks to calls from Oakland, Kansas City and Indianapolis.

And now he was in Santa Clara with a chance to finally make good on those projections that accompanied him coming out of high school.

Projections? They were more like rocket launches. Considered the second best prep receiver in the country, when he signed his letter of intent with Oregon it was televised.


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It was big stuff that had followed big heartache -- both parents had died just prior to arriving in Eugene, his best pal and De La Salle teammate, linebacker Terrance Kelly, was fatally gunned down in Richmond. They were to have gone to Oregon on football scholarships together.

There were ups and downs at Oregon but things were just starting to blossom. There were back-to-back games last fall where he had 15 catches for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns. He and quarterback Dennis Dixon were going to show the world.

"It was starting to click," he said. "But things happen."

Like broken ankles.

Maybe in Santa Clara, the breaks would finally even out. Colvin passed his physical. The X-rays, he said, were perfect. All he had to do now was show he still had it.

"I can play with these guys," Colvin said. "I can play in the NFL. Now is my time to come out and show that I was truthfully a top-ranked wide receiver. Now it's just a process of getting healthy and letting everything happen."

What happened next was more of the same.

His first practice with the 49ers wasn't five minutes old when, lining up on the right side in a pattern drill, he ran a 10-yard out pattern. He had just made his break when he pulled up lame.

Not again? He sat out the remainder of the drills for precautionary reasons and afterwards, he returned to the field house to have it checked out.

"It was just scar tissue," he assured, still smiling and optimistic. "It's nothing to worry about. I just have to take it easy ... we don't want to make things worse. Things have been going good. It's a process now. I'm still in rehab."

He still has a positive attitude. Even after this most recent mini-setback he can still smile.

"Always, always," he said. "I am alive and breathing. There are worse things going on."

Colvin once covered the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. Three months after surgery he managed a 4.65 and was improving.

Niners coach Mike Nolan admits he doesn't know enough about Colvin to project what his future, if any, might be in San Francisco.

"It always starts with numbers," Nolan said. "We needed a wide receiver. Outside that, he's a talented guy who has been injured. As is always the case with free agents, you try to bring in guys that somebody may have overlooked."

Nolan does not mince words about Colvin's chances or whether the 49ers can wait on him to show he still is -- or can be -- that guy who was No. 2 in the country coming out of high school.

"You've got to show something right now," Nolan said. "Otherwise you don't have the luxury to keep guys around in an injured capacity. It works your trainers, who have got to work on guys that are going to play.

"If a guy has a lot of talent, you can make an exception to the rule. Then again, it's hard to make an exception for a free agent, so we'll see. If he can make a roster healthy, that's great. But if you make a roster unhealthy, you have to have shown something at some point where somebody decides it's worth the risk.

"We signed him. I know he has a chance. How big a chance? That's what this is all about."

"This" is the minicamp where scar tissue put a damper on Colvin's first day in that red No. 81 jersey. It was not a good sign. And yet ... Colvin has been here before. He keeps going -- for TK, for his parents.

"This," he said, "is my passion."

And he's still alive and breathing.

Contact Bill Soliday at bsoliday@bayareanewsgroup.com.