August 12, 1998
BERKELEY, Calif. -- It just doesn't matter to Cal quarterback Justin Vedder. It doesn't matter to him that some say that he's too small and doesn't have a strong enough arm to lead the Golden Bears to a bowl game. It doesn't matter that others view him as one of the premier quarterbacks in college football, being ranked the No. 12 QB in the nation by The Sporting News entering into the 1998 season.
"That stuff doesn't mean a thing to me," said Vedder on the eve of Cal's pre-season camp that begins with the first practice on Thursday (Aug. 13) in Turlock. "I couldn't be any more motivated or confident, so whether some are pumping me up or dragging me down is irrelevant. If A publication says I'm No. 12 in the nation I don't pay attention to that either, because my goals are higher than that. I'm ready to play and lead this football team."
Vedder is coming off an impressive debut season, throwing for more yards than any first-year quarterback in Cal history with 2718 yards and 20 touchdowns. On the other hand, he led the league with 14 interceptions and seemed to scramble more often than necessary.
"I ran too much last season instead of sitting in the pocket, making my reads and going through my progression," he said. "It was a little bit of the JC player in me coming out because that's how we won when I was in junior college at Saddleback. But, I have to be more patient here and let everybody else do their job for us to be successful."
Vedder believes he is much farther along than he was when he arrived a year ago and began initiation into Cal's West Coast offense. After spending six hours a day five days a week in preparation, he's ready to prove his mettle during the upcoming season.
"I'm in the best shape of my life," he said. "I'm throwing the ball better than I ever have. I'm stronger. My footwork in the pocket is far better than it was last season. If you look at film last season and again during this past spring, it's like night and day. It's all a matter of getting better day by day and I think I've done that."
Vedder also bristles at the intimation that his arm strength was the main reason Cal didn't have much success throwing the ball deep. "I don't think anybody can say I was the reason we didn't make a lot of long pass plays last year, because basically we didn't try to throw the deep ball for a variety of reasons last season," said Vedder. "This year, we're making it more of a priority and I think we'll have much more success."
The veteran signal-caller also dismisses question marks on the Cal offensive line and depth at the receiver position as issues that will be solved by the start of the season on Sept. 5.
"I know there are some uncertainties on our offensive line, but that group seems more cohesive than in the past, with guys willing to move from guard to center or tackle to guard in order to help the team. That type of attitude will go a long ways toward putting together a solid line. I may get knocked down a few times, but I'm going to get back up and keep getting back up if I need to."
Vedder hasn't had a chance to work directly with many of the first-year receivers but likes what he has seen thus far. "There are some guys with real talent," he said. "I really like his attitude and his competitiveness. That's a big factor when making a jump from the high school to major college level."
In addition to his duties on the field, Vedder is actively involved in raising funds for a mentor program on campus organized by the Stiles Hall Foundation. The program matches Cal students, including several Golden Bear football players, with under-privileged youth in the East Bay. Vedder and Cal receiver Dameane Douglas are helping to solicit pledges for a dollar amount for every touchdown Cal scores this season. Over the past few seasons, that annual program has raised in excess of $50,000 for the mentor program.