Aug. 11, 2011
As the 2011 Cal football training camp marches on, one position on the team that boasts a lot of new faces with loads of upside are the running backs. In recent years, the Golden Bears have been able to showcase a veteran or high-prolific runner at the top of the depth chart under head coach Jeff Tedford and 15th-year assistant running backs coach Ron Gould, who was promoted to run game coordinator in the offseason after years of producing some of the nation's top backs. This season, Cal does not have the luxury of sporting that experienced, highly-touted running back, but that does not mean the group lacks talent.
Entering camp, junior Isi Sofele sits atop of the depth chart. Sofele has the most experience of the group, serving as the backup to last year's starter Shane Vereen, now of the New England Patriots in the NFL. Rushing for 338 yards on 69 carries in 2010, Sofele has some big shoes to fill if he is going to help extend the Bears' streak of having two running backs combine for 1,500 yards or more for a ninth consecutive season. Cal has also had a 1,000-yard rusher in eight of the last nine seasons.
However, the pressure does not scare Sofele one bit. The 5-8, 190 pound native of Salt Lake City, Utah, welcomes the challenge that lies before him.
"I feel like I've worked for this opportunity," Sofele said. "I've worked my whole life to get to this point, so I feel like I'm ready."
For the group as a whole, Gould is happy with the progress he's seen through the first week of training camp. As much as Gould complimented Sofele and all of his running backs' progress, he does not expect one back to carry the load by himself.
"I've been extremely pleased with the work ethic they've shown, and their understanding of the offense and all the technical things we're trying to get them to do." Gould said. "Our theme this year is `One Heartbeat,' so collectively, we're going to get it done."
It takes two to tango, though, and in order for the Bears to keep the trend going of featuring two dangerous weapons in the backfield, Sofele is going to need help.
True freshman Brendan Bigelow, who comes to Berkeley listed as the nation's No. 13 running back recruit and overall Pac-12 recruit by Athlon, has a viable chance to pair up with Sofele in the backfield. Like most of the incoming freshmen, Bigelow is feeling the effects of enduring his first fall training camp.
When asked what the most difficult part of camp has been for him thus far, Bigelow was quick to respond with "learning the plays."
Bigelow and the rest of the young running backs can take solace with having Gould as a mentor. Credited with teaching backs like Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett and Vereen (all of which are currently on NFL rosters), Gould has a coaching strategy that is making it easy for guys like Bigelow to learn the ropes.
"It's nice (playing for Gould)," Bigelow said. "He knows what he's talking about. All you have to do is listen. He preaches ball security, making sure you hold the ball in the right hands and pushing it forward."
Sofele seconded Bigelow's praise of playing for Gould.
"I feel it's a great blessing having a coach like Coach Gould," Sofele said. "He's coached so many other players that have made it big. He knows what he's talking about. We all listen to him, take what he tells us to do, go out on the field and do what he tells us."
While he's the most experienced back, Sofele is not the only returning member of the backfield with some playing experience. Redshirt junior Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson is back in 2011, and after contributing a combined 281 rushing yards and one touchdown over the last two seasons at Cal, he also has a solid chance of being featured along with Sofele.
Dasarte Yarnway, a local product from Sacred Heart Cathedral High School in San Francisco, is the team's other returning player at the position. Yarnway saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2010 when he rushed five times for 22 yards.
In addition to Bigelow, freshman Daniel Lasco is another newcomer that Gould and Tedford are excited about. Lasco rushed for 3,821 yards and 43 touchdowns over three prep campaigns. He was rated the No. 13 tailback nationally in the 2011 class by Tom Lemming.
Regardless of the experience level, Gould has the same expectations for his group as he has every year in the past.
"I want those guys to be at the same level that we've had in the past," Gould said. "We have to have a Pac-12 championship backfield. That's our goal and that's what we're striving to become."
After playing the last 88 seasons and every home game at Memorial Stadium since the facility opened for the 1923 Big Game, Cal will host its home games outside of Berkeley for the first time in 2011 while Memorial Stadium undergoes an extensive renovation and retrofit. For updates on the progress of the renovation and retrofit of Memorial Stadium as well as the Memorial Stadium webcam, visit stadium.berkeley.edu.
Cal football tickets for the team's five-game 2011 regular-season home schedule at San Francisco's AT&T Park are on sale now. Cal will host Pac-12 opponents USC (Thu., Oct. 13), Utah (Sat., Oct. 22), Washington State (Sat., Oct. 5) and Oregon State (Sat., Oct. 12) at the venue after playing Presbyterian in its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Single-game tickets for the TicketCity Battle by the Bay at San Francisco's Candlestick Park against Fresno State on Saturday, Sept. 3 are also on sale now. The neutral-site season opener for both teams is not part of the Bears' season-ticket package.
Tickets can be purchased online for at CalBears.com or by calling the Cal Athletic Ticket Office at (800) GO BEARS.
2011 CAL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Day, Date - Opponent (Time, TV) ^Sat., Sept. 3 - Fresno State (4 p.m. PT, CSN California) Sat., Sept. 10 - at Colorado (1:30 p.m. MT/12:30 p.m. MT) Sat., Sept. 17 - Presbyterian (TBA) *Sat., Sept. 24 - at Washington (TBA) *Thu., Oct. 6 - at Oregon (6 p.m. PT, ESPN) *#Thu., Oct. 13 - USC (6 p.m. PT, ESPN) *Sat., Oct. 22 - Utah (TBA) *Sat., Oct. 29 - at UCLA (TBA) *Sat., Nov. 5 - Washington State (TBA) *Sat., Nov. 12 - Oregon State (TBA) *Sat., Nov. 19 - at Stanford (TBA) *Fri., Nov. 25 - at Arizona State (8:15 p.m. MT/7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN) !Fri., Dec. 2 - Pac-12 Championship Game (TBA, FOX)
Home Games in Bold at AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.;
^TicketCity Battle by the Bay at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif.;
!Pac-12 Championship Game at Home Site of Regular-Season Champion;