Aug. 14, 1999
Turlock, CA - Cal's Joel Young doesn't seem fazed by the task at hand in 1999.
A former walk-on who came to Cal because of his stellar academic performance, Young now is not only being asked to emerge as the team's top pass-catcher, but also fill the large shadow left by players such as Dameane Douglas and Bobby Shaw, who have held the Pac-10 receiving title the last three seasons.
That's a large order for the senior who has only 28 catches in his career.
However, the soft-spoken Bay Area native relishes his opportunity in 1998 and believes he can emerge as one of the top receivers in the Pac-10.
"Every year, players have to prove who's the best and I know it's my time to make plays," says Young. "I'm trying to relax and slow down the game. I have the confidence in myself that I can have a big season and am trying to do everything I can to prepare for that."
Young's off-season workouts were derailed for a while when he had to have arthoscopic surgery on his knee after tearing some cartilage in a Tae Kwon Doe workout in June. That cost him four weeks, but he came back in full health. Then he tore some scar tissue in the knee a week ago and the knee swelled up. That caused him to miss the first two days of fall camp in Turlock, but he returned to practice on Saturday and says the injury won't be a factor by the season-opener on Sept. 4.
Clearly, the coaching staff is counting heavily on Young to energize a receiving corps that enters the season as a largely untested group. While Young's 28 career catches may not seem like much, it's a motherlode when considering the six other returning receivers who expect to contend for spots in the playing rotation have a cumulative total of only 7 career receptions among them.
"Joel Young is our best receiver," states head coach Tom Holmoe. "He's an excellent route-runner and he catches the ball well. We need him to have a good year."
Young has steadily built his strength during his time at Cal as he's a far cry from the 160-pounder who arrived on campus in 1995. Still, at 6-2 and 185 pounds, he remains thin and he'll be challenged by Pac-10 defensive backs.
"The big test will be how he handles the big corners who play physical at the line of scrimmage before he gets into his routes," said assistant coach Troy Taylor. "If he can manage that issue, he'll have a great year because he runs his routes so well and will catch the football."
Young knows he has large shoes to fill, and isn't claiming he'll match Dameane Douglas' 100-catch performance last season or even the 75 receptions that Shaw had in 1997. Still, he believes he'll catch more than his share of passes in '99. He says he tries to build upon some of their strengths and utilize them in his own game.
"I watch film and I see myself running routes like Bobby (Shaw) and I'm trying to incorporate the fire and energy and tenacity of Dameane into my game," says Young. "When you think about the tradition of our receivers at Cal recently, it definitely pushes you. You want to be able to push your chest out and hold your head up."
While the former offense produced huge numbers for players like Shaw and Douglas, it wasn't particularly effective as the Bears ranked dead last in total offense in the Pac-10. The new offensive system installed by coordinator Steve Hagen will spread the ball around more. That means somebody like Young probably won't lead the league in receiving. However, Young believes Cal will be much more potent, as a whole.
"The new system is great," he says. "I think it's definitely going to help us get the offense rolling. It's not complicated and the players have picked it up easily, but you can also do a lot out of it."
Young also believes that big things are in store for the Cal team this fall. "The chemistry feels real good," he says. "It feels like my senior year at St. Mary's HS when we went 11-2."
Young will not only wrap up his playing career this year, he's ready to graduate after compiling a 3.43 GPA in sociology. He indicates that graduate school is his next step, considering law school or sports management as possible careers.
Right now, he has more pressing business on hand with the start of football season only three weeks away. He can hardly wait to take his place in the spotlight.
By Kevin Reneau