Nov. 2, 2005
By Dean Caparaz
BERKELEY, Calif. - The everything-for-the-team attitude that transformed Chris Manderino from a walk-on to a starting fullback hasn't changed.
Case in point: During spring practice last April, Manderino caught a pass and turned to run when a defensive teammate leveled him. The junior popped up, ready for the next drill. A little blood and a gap in his lower teeth told him he may have lost a tooth, but that wasn't going to slow him down.
It wasn't until a trainer pulled him aside and told him he may have had a broken jaw that Manderino stopped. His jaw healed about a month and a half later. That healing happened after about six weeks of having his mouth wired shut, losing 20-30 pounds and working to get that weight back.
"Three months later we started our fall camp, and he was ready to go," said Cal running backs coach Ron Gould. "He hasn't missed one thing for us. This guy has started since freshman year and hasn't missed a thing."
Manderino is the epitome of the blue-collar player who gets little of the recognition he deserves for the success of the 21st-ranked Golden Bears. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound fullback is in his final season at Cal after joining the team in 2001 and becoming a starter as a redshirt freshman in 2002. The relative unknown made a big splash in his debut, scoring a touchdown on an 18-yard reception in the 2002 season opener against Baylor, which Cal trounced, 70-22.
Since then, he has caught a few more balls, run the ball sparingly and, mainly, blocked for talented halfbacks, including Joe Igber, Adimchinobe Echemandu, J.J. Arrington and current sophomore Marshawn Lynch.
"Some of the things that goes unnoticed when you have backs doing well are one, offensive linemen, two, tight ends and, three, fullbacks," Gould said. "The fans never cheer about the block the fullback or tight end made. But they are an integral part of success we've had for all the runners. You just wear that hard hat, punch that time clock and go to the game.
"Chris is just a very, very bright guy. A physical guy. A hard worker. Because he's such a mild-mannered, good-looking guy, people might misconstrue that as soft. But don't let the look fool you."
This season, Manderino has a few carries, including a three-yard touchdown run in the 41-3 blowout of Sacramento State in the season opener. The fullback with "soft hands," as Gould says, also has a few receptions, including a 54-yard catch in the 41-13 rout of New Mexico State and a 10-yard TD catch in the 28-0 shutout of Arizona. Manderino enjoys the occasional touch, saying, "It's nice to be in the huddle and get my number called, like a reward for all the blocking I do."
But with Lynch hampered by a finger injury and with Cal relying heavily on the running game, Manderino has blocked often and for a variety of players. Against the Aggies, he helped sophomore Justin Forsett record a career-high 235 rushing yards, the fourth-best effort ever by a Cal running back. And against the Wildcats, Manderino helped Lynch run for 107 yards in his return.
"I pretty much block the same," Manderino said. "It's their job to read the blocks and do what they do. They are all very talented backs this year, more than in years past. One thing that's different is I find myself blocking longer and looking to get additional blocks besides mine, because those guys are tough to take down and make long runs out of nothing."
The native of Southern California, who was born in Anaheim and calls Newport Beach home, used to be the guy piling up yardage and scoring touchdowns. At Newport Harbor High School, Manderino scored a school- and district-record 31 TDs his senior year. His 2,200 career rushing yards also ranked second best in Newport Harbor history.
When he got to Cal, which already had its share of talented halfbacks, Manderino was better suited to the fullback position.
"Yeah, he rushed for 2000 yards in a season," Gould said. "We tease him all the time. He's used to running the ball. It was quite a change for him here, going from running the ball to blocking and catching it. But he's been fine. A real team guy. He does anything it takes to win games. He's very unselfish. He does a great job for us."
As with most college football players, Manderino would love to parlay his skills into a professional career. But if that doesn't happen, he will make use of his American studies major with an emphasis on business and globalization. Manderino graduates this spring and hopes to get into commercial real estate, perhaps owning his own business and opening his own restaurant.
Look for Manderino to bring his trademark blue-collar attitude to whichever workplace he finds.
"I just try to work hard and have a good work ethic," he said. "I lead by example and just give my all. I hope that people will see that and it'll be contagious. Hopefully, it'll inspire people."