Sept. 12, 2009
By Jennifer Starks
Special to Calbears.com
Cal safety Brett Johnson knew Mychal Kendricks had a rather busy afternoon. After seeing him tear around Memorial Stadium on Saturday, chasing down members of the Eastern Washington football team, that much was obvious.
But he didn't know the true extent of that workday until he spotted a postgame stat sheet and decided to take a closer look.
"Fourteen tackles?" Johnson said with a hint of surprise in his voice. "Man."
In a game in which the No. 10 Bears ran roughshod over the Eagles, Kendricks made sure his presence was felt. He led Cal with a team-high 14 tackles and one fumble recovery, as the Bears spanked Eastern Washington 59-7 at Memorial Stadium.
But instead of basking in the glow of his stat-stuffing effort, Kendricks found himself lamenting what could have been.
It was early in the second quarter, and Eastern Washington (1-1) was on the move. Quarterback Matt Nichols dropped back to pass but was leveled by Mike Mohamed, knocking him and the football to the turf. Kendricks scooped up the ball and took off. Rather than barrel straight into the end zone, the sophomore linebacker looked up and caught a glimpse of himself on the big screen above. The decision proved costly.
Eagles running back Taiwan Jones, a former track star at Deer Valley High School, dragged Kendricks down at the 5-yard line, preventing him from the touchdown he so badly coveted. The Bears (2-0) eventually settled for a 19-yard field goal by Vince D'Amato.
"I was looking cool, but I was overwhelmed," Kendricks said. "It's going to haunt me. I've heard it from my family already. No excuses. I should've had that touchdown."
Despite the overzealous decision, Kendricks still impressed.
Through the first two games of the season, he's emerged as the Bears' leading tackler, pushing his running total to 26 (he recorded a game-high 12 tackles last week against Maryland). It's a big jump from the 15 tackles he notched all of last season.
"He's a solid player," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He has great instincts to play the game and a lot of physical ability. He puts himself in position to make plays because he's so athletic."
Kendricks, a Fresno native, spent the bulk of his freshman season learning the ropes from former linebackers Worrell Williams, Zack Follett and Anthony Felder. Their departures may have signaled an opportunity for Kendricks, but it's their presence that mattered most.
Indeed, Kendricks refers to the trio as geniuses, saying they helped him know what to expect this season, how to read the opposition's eyes and even its knuckles.
"When the knuckles are white, it means run," Kendricks said. "When they're not, its pass."
Those lessons are clearly paying off for the Bears. As Johnson put it, less mistakes, more plays.
And right now, that's exactly what Cal needs.