By Steffi Chan, Steven Dunst and Gerald Nicdao, Daily Cal Staff Writers
Reprinted by permission.
From His Days at Long Beach Poly, Junior Wideout DeSean Jackson Has Always Showcased His Flair
At the mention of DeSean Jackson, one particular moment comes to the mind of Long Beach Poly football coach Raul Lara.
And it's not even a game in which Jackson's high school team, the Jackrabbits, played.
It's Jan. 15, 2005, and Jackson is standing on the field of the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas.
It's the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and Jackson, then a high school senior, knows that he's surrounded by the 79 most talented players in the country. It's the kind of stage Jackson relishes most.
Under the watchful gaze of spectators from all over the nation, Jackson knows he has the capability to steal the show. He goes deep for his first reception of the game. Once he reaches the 6-yard line, he knows it's as good as a touchdown.
But not quite.
"DeSean tried to dive into the end zone from the 6-yard line and did a somersault and didn't make it!" says Lara, chuckling. "He fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line and the other team recovered it, and I'm like, DeSean, what are you doing? I was in the stands and everybody was turning around saying `Coach, you let him do that?'"
Looking back, Lara laughs now because he can still be proud of his former star receiver, somersault and all. Jackson salvaged his national debut with a seven-reception, 141-yard performance--plus a 45-yard touchdown pass--to win the MVP award in the West's 35-3 victory.
"After that he had a fantastic game and of course no one had anything to say," says Lara. "Thank God he did because I would've been teased all the way home!"
Such a performance--flashy, explosive, and downright incredible--sums up the player Jackson has become as a starting wideout on the Cal football team.
Three years later, and Jackson is not any less dynamic. Now people in the stands turn around mostly to gape at the wide receiver's NFL-caliber abilities.
Against Tennessee this year, Jackson fielded a punt at the 23-yard line. The Vols might as well have been playing "NCAA 08," helpless as Jackson danced from one sideline to the other, making one defender miss by simply jumping backwards as if he'd hit the R1 button on a PlayStation controller. Four fallen defenders and 77 yards later, Cal had six more points on the board.
It is no mystery why Lara, who has coached the likes of wide receivers Kareem Kelly and Sammy Parker, cites Jackson as one of his favorite players in his 18 years at the helm of the Long Beach Poly program.
"That dude is amazing," said fellow wideout Robert Jordan. "That jump-back move he made in the punt return--he's not human. I'm going to watch it again right now in the film room as a matter of fact. Funny part about it is--he wasn't running fast at all."
His explosiveness and elusiveness that teammates and coaches cite as his greatest qualities have made him stand out among the nation's best. It is no wonder that the spotlight is constantly on him. Then again, Jackson wouldn't have it any other way.
"One thing he told me was he wanted to be in the spotlight," says Lara about his discussion with Jackson on where to commit for college. "I remember telling him, `DeSean, it doesn't matter where you go because wherever you go, you're going to excel and be in the spotlight.' DeSean likes the spotlight, there's no ifs or buts."
So it's no coincidence that his most electric performances of the year--his 77-yard punt return against Tennessee, 161 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon, and 136 yards and two scores against UCLA--have come when the game has been broadcast on national television.
"I definitely know when it's on T.V.," says Jackson. "When it's on T.V. the whole world watches, so I definitely try to do the best things possible to come up and make plays, anything I can do out there on the field.
Once upon a time, the cameras didn't naturally follow the star receiver.
But he craved it just the same.
Former Jackrabbits teammate Hershel Dennis, now a sixth-year running back for USC, remembers Jackson as a wide-eyed ninth-grader who was eager to prove he deserved the attention.
"It's crazy to see him grown and being up for the Heisman when just a couple years back, he was just a little kid," says Dennis. "I was a senior, he was a freshman and during that time I was sort of the big man on campus. He was always the one guy you were going to watch play. He was a fast little kid. He'd be like `Watch me do this Hersh!'"
Lara, for one, watches Jackson play nowadays, not fazed by what he sees.
"Pretty much what you see him doing now is the same thing he did with us in high school," says Lara.
Not everything though.
Last summer, Jackson returned to Long Beach Poly's Veteran Stadium, but brought with him something extra: an ESPN camera crew. It was a testament to his long list of achievements at Cal--among them, 21 career touchdowns and a nation-leading six punt returns for a touchdown.
So Lara could only smile when he saw his former star doing somersaults once again in front of the ESPN cameras. Knowing Jackson, Lara would have expected nothing less.
-- Contact Steffi Chan at email@example.com.
Lavelle Hawkins' Big Plays Have Spotlight Finally Turning to Him
Wideout Lavelle Hawkins sits down on a tarp after practice, seemingly immune to the frigid wind whipping through Memorial Stadium with the sun long down. All he wants to talk about is his little brother.
Hawkins says his 10-year-old brother William told him last week that after he scored two touchdowns in a Pop Warner game, he did his best impersonation of "The Hawk"-- running around the end zone in mock flight just like his big brother.
"I want him to go and tell his friends, `Did you see Lavelle on TV? I want to be like Lavelle,'" says Hawkins. "I just try to give him someone to look up to."
Even at a young age, William exudes all the confidence of his older brother. He fielded questions from reporters after last Saturday's win over Washington State like a seasoned veteran and was perfectly comfortable talking about his own football talents.
"(Lavelle) told me I should play wide receiver like him but I wanted to be the running back because I want the load on my back," says William. "I just go out there like my brother and try to represent."
It does not even bother Hawkins that his little brother spurned a chance to star at receiver for the opportunity to run between the tackles as a running back.
"He just wants to be the man," says Hawkins. "He's gotta go where the ball's going. I can't blame him."
But the elder Hawkins still has no inclination to be the man. He goes out of the way to convince onlookers that speedy DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan are the star acts, with Hawkins just along for the ride.
"It's all about DeSean, man," he says. "Keep all the attention off me so that I can make plays under the radar. Keep on giving DeSean all the love."
There is no shortage of love pouring Hawkins' way. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper recently listed him as the No. 3 senior receiver in the nation and other web sites seem to have him tabbed as a consensus second-round pick, even though Hawkins plays second-fiddle to Jackson in the national spotlight.
"Man, it'd be a huge accomplishment to play on the next level," says Hawkins. "All three of us receivers have been through a lot. I know y'all hear this a lot, but it would be a dream come true."
Hawkins has been through more than most.
As an All-American receiver at Edison High in Stockton, Hawkins lived with his grandmother, Janet Curley. His mom ran into problems with drugs and he did not even know what happened to his father.
"I know there are some sad stories out there, but mine's one of them," says Hawkins.
Now his mother is a much greater part of his life and watches most Bears games with William.
"My mom be getting scared because he gets hit hard sometimes," says William. "She holds her breath a lot when he has the ball because she don't want him to get hurt."
But defenses have barely been able to catch up to Hawkins so far this season. Hawkins has 53 catches for 681 yards, serving as quarterback Nate Longshore's most consistent receiver and go-to playmaker on most third downs.
Hawkins will never admit to being the focal point of the offense--but that may be him playing coy and baiting the defenses into continued double-teams on Jackson.
"DeSean's a great player, but I'm the best," says Hawkins. "I try to keep that under wraps."
All of that secrecy goes out the window in practice. It's usually easy to spot Jackson and Hawkins jarring back and forth and making their case for why they should be considered the best receiver on a loaded Cal squad.
The trash talking gets so heated that Hawkins and Jackson sometimes even end up not conversing with each other for periods of time.
"I can't put in the paper what we say to each other, I'll just leave it at that," says Hawkins. "But it gets personal."
The boisterous Hawkins claims that he has never lost an argument and it's easy to see why.
Before Jackson broke out in the Oregon game with two touchdowns, Hawkins spent all week in his ear, increasing the competition and baiting Jackson into putting together a masterful performance.
He has also referred to himself as Cal's Don King earlier in the season, preemptively claiming the role of Justin Forsett's manager in case the tailback embarks on a singing career.
"Lavelle's a character," says offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik. "You talk to him for five minutes you'll get him all figured out.
At this rate, NFL fans will soon get a chance to see "The Hawk" performed first-hand. Even if Hawkins is unwilling to make any predictions about NFL stardom, he knows at least one thing.
"I look the best out on the field," says Hawkins.
He plans to look his best if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calls his name on draft day.
"Man, it's crazy thinking about my name getting called," says Hawkins. "I always believed I would, ever since I was a little kid."
Maybe then "The Hawk" celebration will finally start spreading coast-to-coast.
-- Contact Steven Dunst at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a Breakout First Year, Robert Jordan Has Become Cal's Most Reliable Wideout
Robert Jordan remembers where he was for the USC game his freshman year. He wasn't on the sidelines at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He was at home, watching the game in what was supposed to be his redshirt season.
When he saw senior wide receiver Chase Lyman tear is anterior cruciate ligament, Jordan turned to his father and said that he might actually have a chance to play that year.
His father questioned it, but two weeks later, against Arizona in Tempe, Ariz., Jordan was in the lineup. And a week after that, Jordan was making his first start for the Cal football team on a Saturday night against Arizona State.
It was a night that he will never forget.
"Oh yeah, Arizona State," says Jordan as if his first collegiate start was last week instead of four years ago.
A first start is arguably always going to be memorable, but for Jordan, it is more than a page in a scrapbook.
Not only did Jordan start his first collegiate game, he had 116 receiving yards and hauled in his first collegiate touchdown--seven seconds into the game.
"Kickoff comes around and Arizona State gets the ball first, then boom, they fumble right here," says Jordan as he points to somewhere around the 30-yard line at Memorial Stadium.
"The next thing I know coach is like `Get on the ball.' They call a Z-seam and I get the wheel route. Then I look, A-Rod's looking at Geoff (McArthur) and then he looks at me and I'm like, `Oh my God.' So I catch the ball and I look at the ref and he's like touchdown. I look at the clock and there's still 14:53 left."
If that night showed Bears fans anything, it's that Jordan was going to be the real deal.
Injuries had depleted the receiving corps that future NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers could throw to. That rushed Jordan's playing time. With seniors like McArthur and Lyman, coach Jeff Tedford hoped to save a year of eligibility for Jordan. But injuries forced Jordan into the lineup.
He was so effective that even his younger cousin, Marshawn Lynch--who is now the starting tailback for the NFL's Buffalo Bills--was impressed.
"I don't think a lot of freshman at that time would have been ready to step into that role that Rob was placed in," says Lynch. "He had that positive attitude where he realized he needed to work. That's what really put him in the position to where he could have just stepped into that role and make the impact that he did."
After beating ASU, Jordan had 17 more catches, finished the year with 332 yards receiving and scored a touchdown in the Big Game.
It looked as if Jordan was going to be the next big thing at Cal, along with his cousin Lynch.
"I thought that after Geoff and Chase and all of them left, that I was going to be the man," says Jordan. "Man it's crazy how time and maturity come into play. But I thought for sure that I was going to be the man. Then the next year on campus Lavelle and DeSean come. Everything happens for a reason man. But that's how things work."
The additions of DeSean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins took some of the onus off of Jordan. It didn't help Jordan that he was bothered by sprained ligaments in his collarbone late in his sophomore season, causing him to miss the game against Washington State.
The passing game was also affected by inconsistencies at quarterback that year. Jordan may have finished second on the team in catches and receptions, but he was going to have to find his place among this new trio of receivers.
"Everyone is a great wideout," says Jordan "Everyone can't be the man. I understand that, so I just took my part and played my role."
One of those roles is to be a mentor to the rest of the receiving corps and to the team.
He may not be as flashy as Jackson or have as loud of a mouth as Hawkins, but Jordan has the experience the other two don't.
Jordan is currently the team leader with games played with 39.
"He's stepped into that leader role and be that receiver that if any of the other receivers had any questions, that Rob can answer that for them," says Lynch.
Hawkins and Jackson are two receivers that probably don't need too much help from Jordan, especially now. The trio has been together for three years and the relationship that Jordan has with them on the field and in practice seems more brotherly than that of a mentor.
Jordan even admitted that both have pushed him to work harder.
"There's so much competition, that you can't be relaxed," says Jordan. "You don't what's going to happen. You've got to score or they will."
While Jordan didn't become the big-play receiver that his talents suggested he would while he was a freshman, he did become the most reliable wideout on the team.
His sure hands have led to a program record 38 consecutive games with a reception.
For Jordan, the record is more than just a mere stat in a book and he says he hopes that it adds to the lasting memory of this current trio of wideouts.
"I feel like all three of us are leaving our stamp here at the school," says Jordan. "Hopefully we can go down as one of the best receiving corps in Cal history. If we can leave, and still have people buzzing around about how we were the best ever, that'll be an accomplishment."
And if people do remember Jordan, they can look back to 2004 and to his first start against Arizona State and to his first touchdown and to where it all began.
-- Contact Gerald Nicdao at email@example.com.