Aug. 19, 2001
TURLOCK - Perhaps the biggest concern facing the Cal football team heading into the 2001 season is finding a replacement for All-American punter Nick Harris.
When Harris, who held down the Golden Bears' punting duties for four years, finished his career last fall, he left as the NCAA's all-time leader in both total punts and punting yardage. Then in April, the Denver Broncos took him in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
To help with the transition, head coach Tom Holmoe hired LeCharls McDaniel as special teams coach. McDaniel honed his skills with the Washington Redskins, where he was in charge of special teams the last three years.
Fredrickson served as Harris' primary backup in 2001, but his experience added up to just four punts for a 29.2 average. For his part, Hershey's only action came two years ago when he handled placekicking duties in several games.
"You have to invest time in special teams," said McDaniel. "I think what we're doing is going to help us. I think it will be a positive. I think our kids will respond to the battle."
McDaniel's presence has meant increased practice time spent with the kickers. In years past, when the Bears' did not have a coach devoted exclusively to special teams, the kickers spent much of practice on the sidelines. Now, when the rest of the team is going through drills, they receive personal attention from McDaniel.
"I think there has been progress from the spring," McDaniel said. "We're still getting the fundamentals down as far as protection and in the punting. The more fundamentals we do, the better off we are. Hershey and Fredrickson have both improved. Can they improve more? Yes, they can. But I think we're on the right track."
Both Hershey and Fredrickson agree that McDaniel's interest will pay immediate dividends.
"The addition of a new coach has been an incredible benefit to the special teams program, having a personal coach with us," said Fredrickson, who has been running with the first unit in training camp. "We're able to focus on the small things, which will enable us to become better players."
Fundamentals and consistency are the two areas that concern McDaniel the most. In the spring, McDaniel introduced his techniques to the players. Now that Hershey and Fredrickson have a better understanding, perfecting the details has become a higher priority.
"Coach McDaniel has us walk lines so we make sure we get our steps straight every time," Hershey said. "He has us doing drops. One of the main things in punting is having consistent drops. If you don't have a consistent drop, everything else can be perfect, but you won't have a good punt."
Added McDaniel: "I think consistency is the most important thing, doing all the things that need to be done to give your team the opportunity to cover and to place the ball where it needs to be. Getting the ball up in a timely fashion is also very important."
With the season-opener against Illinois less than two weeks away, McDaniel has yet to name a starter, and both players are confident they can win the job. No one expects either Hershey or Fredrickson to be the next Nick Harris this year, but the goal of having a solid punting game is definitely within reach.
"You have to go out and do your own thing," said Fredrickson. "In my opinion, Nick was probably the greatest punter I'll ever see. He's probably one of the greatest punters to ever play the college game. I'm not Nick, for better or for worse. But my intentions are the same, to bomb punts and to see Cal football win. I'm going to do my best to do that."
With McDaniel, Fredrickson and Hershey working together, Cal's punting game can certainly be an asset for the Bears this fall.