Sept. 5, 2002
BERKELEY - As he walked into Memorial Stadium's Hall of Fame Room to participate in his first press conference, redshirt-freshman fullback Chris Manderino seemed at ease. Neither the setting - where memorabilia from Cal's greatest athletes is displayed - nor the purpose - a series of interviews by Bay Area writers and broadcasters - appeared to faze the young player.
Just three days after his first game in a Golden Bear uniform, Manderino looked as if he was effortlessly making the transition from virtual unknown to emerging star. Although most of those in attendance could not yet identify him, Manderino strolled into the room with a presence that permeated confidence.
"I actually wouldn't be hurt if people did not recognize me or jump at the sound of my name," said Manderino.
As a rule, fullbacks don't receive that much attention anyway, with the majority of accolades in the offensive backfield bestowed upon quarterbacks and tailbacks. The fullback has to be the consummate team player who is called on to sacrifice his body by plowing time and time again into defenders that are usually bigger and stronger.
At 6-1, 220 pounds, Manderino is not a big guy by today's standards, but he has a unique quality that allows him to play large. He honed his skills at Newport Harbor High School in Newport Beach and learned a bit more from his father, Paul, who was a fullback/defensive lineman at Michigan State from 1971-74.
"I was a quarterback and tailback in high school, so I didn't have to be big," Manderino said. "However, since the winter, I have gained 20 pounds. Now I am out there in a new position trying to do my best."
Manderino joined the Cal program as a walk-on freshman last year and spent the season as a redshirt. In the spring, under the watchful eye of new head coach Jeff Tedford, Manderino began to make himself known among the staff. In the spring game, when most of Cal's tailbacks were sidelined with injuries, he filled in and rushed for 30 yards on eight carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
During fall training camp, Manderino secured the No.1 fullback spot and was rewarded with a scholarship the week of the season opener. Then, as if to prove his worthiness, Manderino caught three passes for 43 yards against Baylor, including a spectacular grab for a touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Kyle Boller early in the second quarter.
"We ask Chris to do a lot for us and he's responded," said Tedford. "He's been very dependable and is a well-rounded player. Chris has good hands and I plan to use them. I plan to use all my weapons."
"I spent a lot of time on the scout teams last year," said Manderino. "During that time, instead of sulking, I looked at it as an opportunity to get better and more athletic.
"I just want to win. If that means starting, then that's what I'll do. If that means running around on the scout team, then that's what I am willing to do, too."
As selfless as it sounds, a few more performances like Saturday's effort against Baylor, and Manderino may just become a household name.