Nov. 28, 2012
By Kyle McRae
Growing up in the football-hungry town of Greensboro, North Carolina, Cal football standouts Keenan Allen and Zach Maynard are used to sharing the spotlight. The brothers have had the glare of the spotlight on both of them for many years.
"We come from a huge football town," Maynard said. "A lot of people have known our names for a long time. It's the same deal here at Cal playing Division I football, but it's just bigger than ever now."
It was pretty big coming in when Allen as one of the most-highly sought after recruits in the nation chose Cal after having been verbally committed to now two-time defending national champion Alabama earlier in the recruiting process, while Maynard transferred from Buffalo.
In his first game in Berkeley on Sept. 4, 2010, Allen burst onto the scene in with a pair of touchdowns and 120 yards receiving at Memorial Stadium against UC Davis. He would go on to break DeSean Jackson's record for most receptions ever at Cal by a true freshman, and there have been numerous highlights, honors and milestones reached since for the 2012 national honors candidate.
Before he was two full seasons into his collegiate career, Allen had equaled Jackson as the fastest player in Cal history to reach both 1,000 career receiving yards (16th game) and 100 career receptions (18th game). He caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards as a sophomore in 2011 to rank second on Cal's all-time single-season lists in both categories. He was on the receiving end of a 90-yard pass play from Maynard at Washington in 2011 that was the longest in school history.
Fast forward to three-quarters of the way through his junior season and he is the school's all-time leader in receptions (205), setting the mark at Utah in the ninth game of the 2012 campaign. He is also third all-time at Cal in career receiving yardage (2,570).
With all of his success the spotlight has shined even brighter than before. Although the spotlight has been on him for years, Allen had tended to be on the shy side during some of his early days in Berkeley but has really opened up and been talking much more of late. He is one of Cal's primary representatives with the media and understands those conversations are good for both him and the school's football program.
"It helps get both myself and our football program exposure," Allen said. It's also given him many more opportunities to show his true personality, which in addition to being comfortable and confident he explains includes plenty of laughter and having a good time.
"It's cool to be in the spotlight because it means you're that guy, the go-to-guy," said Allen, who truly seems to be enjoying the spotlight despite his generally shy nature. "There's pressure being in the spotlight, but you just kind of go with it. It doesn't really bother me now. It's definitely gotten easier. I can relax now and focus more."
When you score 53 touchdowns on offense, while making 145 tackles and picking off eight balls defensively as a high school senior, you get a little taste of what might be coming at the collegiate level.
"I have to go to a friend's house if I want to chill," Allen said about his popularity back home, which he claims is more intense than in Berkeley. "It has its moments. Being in the spotlight on the field is definitely what you want, but when you're just with your friends off the field it can be kind of awkward."
Maynard learned early in his career that as the quarterback you get a lot of the glory when things go well and a lot of the critiques when they don't.
"It kind of comes with the territory," Maynard said with a smile. "Playing quarterback I'm used to getting all the praise and all the criticism as well." Maynard played two seasons at Buffalo in 2008 and 2009 before transferring when his head coach Turner Gill left the school. He was forced to redshirt his first season in 2010, spending one semester in the Bay Area at nearby Contra Costa College before starting at Cal in January of 2011.
Just as his brother had quickly been thrust into the spotlight at Cal so was Maynard. Kevin Riley had finished his run as the Bears' starter in 2010 and Maynard immediately was entered into what began as a five-way competition to become the team's starting quarterback in 2011. With his one season as the starter at Buffalo in 2009, he had more collegiate experience at the position than any of his competitors and by the midway point of spring ball he was taking the majority of the first-team reps in practice.
Two weeks after spring ball ended, head coach Jeff Tedford made it official when he announced that Maynard would be the team's starting quarterback in 2011 and he has started each of the team's 23 games since.
Both Maynard and the Bears have been up-and-down through his tenure, and he's been the target of plenty of both praise and criticism from fans and the media since, but he's handled it quite well.
"You can't really get too involved with how someone is critiquing how you play the game," Maynard said. "When you play the game every day, you can critique yourself. That's also why you have coaches."
Although Maynard has recently moved into the top-10 all-time at Cal in both total offense and passing yards in less than two full seasons, and has posted relatively strong numbers with a career quarterback rating of 129.78 is the eighth-best in school history and 134.04 mark in 2012, he realizes what comes with the job and is prepared for anything he might encounter when the lights and microphones come on during those post-game press conferences.
"I haven't heard anything too crazy yet," he said with a laugh when pressed to answer a question. "But, you never know. It could happen tomorrow." Spoken like a man who knows just what he's doing when the spotlight is on.