As one of the quickest receivers in the league, a jitterbug who can fly around you in a blink, Juan Ramirez doesn’t seem like someone who would look when one calls out, “Hey, fatso.”

But in junior high, the fleet-footed North senior leader, who averaged 14.8 yards a catch and led the team in punt returns in 2008, had some very different numbers.

“I was actually a nose guard in junior high, I had size,” said Ramirez during a break in Tuesday’s spring practice session. “But I was like 4-foot-11, 190 pounds, you get what I’m saying.”

Ramirez, known for his exquisite moves and propensity to escape the first, second and sometimes third tackler from the inside, or slot, position, recalled that though he could catch, his body slowed him down.

“The way I lost weight is to join cross country in eighth grade, that’s what did it,” he smiled. “At first I didn’t want to do it, I told the coach, ‘Look at this body, I can’t compete.’ But the coach didn’t give up on me and I started getting better every meet, trying to stay up with Luis Serrano.”

The work he put in against Serrano, a guy who become the school’s best distance runner by his senior year, had paid off. Ramirez is still a stocky fireplug but he had turned the fat into muscle. And when he gets on the field, his days as a gordo are in the rearview mirror.

That’s why it’s sort of fun to poke fun at the old Juanito. Position coach Rodney Mayo, watching Ramirez go through catching drills Tuesday, spoke of the past and present player.

“He’s a tough kid, he doesn’t let anything bother him,” said Mayo, who had the kids trying to snag tennis balls which were shot out of a pitching machine at high rates of speed. “He’s worked really hard. You can see the guy out on the street at 10 p.m., wearing a jacket and running through the city of Edinburg.

“But in junior high? I have a picture of him and he’s pretty chubby.”

Ramirez leads a group of receivers who are looking good this spring. Along with the veteran slasher is Matt Munoz, former starter at quarterback, who caught a long touchdown pass from Raul Monsevais Tuesday. JoeMar Vazquez is another option at a loaded slot spot.

“We have a bunch of kids who can do the job, we are all working hard and I expect that to carry over into the summer,” Mayo said.

Outside, position coach Raul Salas is in the same boat, with a series of promising receivers including rangy Jordan Quiroz and smooth Andrew Partida, who has toiled in the weight room and is cut like a boxer. Hurdler Danny Contreras is in the mix, and Salas noted that a pair of freshmen (sophomores to be) is showing well so far in spring. In Michael Hinojosa and Marcos Salinas, the Coogs have the future at the outside space; both have all the tools, they just need experience.

“I am actually looking at which one of those young guys is going to step up the most in the spring,” said Salas.

Hinojosa gave a good indication of the up and downside of youth, making some nice grabs early in the day Tuesday but dropping a slant pass in the goal-line portion of the workout.

Those youngbloods would do well to watch Ramirez to see how it’s done. After spending some time at cornerback as well as receiver in 2007, Ramirez settled into the slot and produced six touchdowns for the playoff-bound Coogs.

“I have a quick burst now, not like in the old days,” he said. “This spring is important for us, I am glad to be enjoying the practices. We have some guys who are learning how to play and having spring is good for them, so they can see how it’s done.”