BERKELEY-In 2008, Cal center Alex Mack became the first Bears football player to receive the prestigious Draddy Award-the so-called Academic Heisman. It was announced this morning that senior Cal linebacker and business major Mike Mohamed was one of 47 Football Bowl Subdivision semifinalists for the award, now renamed the William V. Campbell Trophy.
"It's awesome," said Mohamed after practice on Thursday. "I think a lot of people realize that we do go to school and we do work really hard. So, to get recognition for that is a big deal."
Mohamed was a first-team All-Pac-10 player last season and was an honorable mention in 2008. He's been a Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week three times and has earned Pac-10 All-Academic honors three times, being named to the first team for the past two seasons.
Other Pac-10 semifinalists this season are Oregon's Jordan Holmes, Stanford's Owen Marecic, UCLA's Danny Rees and Washington State's Chima Nwachukwu.
Mohamed remembers fondly when his teammate-and current Cleveland Browns starter Mack-won the award back in 2008.
"He thought it was awesome, and I've heard that it's the academic equivalent of the Heisman, so it stands out," Mohamed said. "It's a pretty big honor. It's huge. It's the Heisman for academics, so any time you're even in the top however-many semifinalists there are, it's pretty big. I'm pretty happy to at least be a semifinalist."
Head coach Jeff Tedford, who accompanied Mack to the Waldorff Astoria Hotel in New York when he took home the hardware, was effusive in his praise of his senior defensive captain.
"He's very well-deserving of that," Tedford said. "He signifies all the things-like Alex Mack-a great student, great player, great leader, so he fits right into that mold. He deserves the nomination, no doubt about it. But I also know that there's a lot of qualified people. When I went to Alex's thing, it was pretty impressive, the people who are represented from all over the country at all levels of football. It's a pretty impressive deal. Just to be a part of that group says a lot. He deserves it."
Mohamed has used this bye week to further heal his injured big toe, which kept him out of Cal's 52-31 loss at Nevada and limited him in the Bears' heartbreaking 10-9 loss to No. 9 Arizona.
"I'm feeling a lot better, and this weekend is going to be great, just to rest up," he said. "We've got some guys banged up out there, so we can get everybody healthy and get ready for the stretch run."
That stretch run begins next Saturday against the Bruins, in the annual Joe Roth Memorial Game, which coincides with Homecoming.
"We did prepare for an opponent," said Tedford of the bye week practices. "We got a couple good days in for UCLA yesterday and today, trying to get a jump-start on them. It was a good week of practice. We went full-gear today, hit a little bit, and tomorrow we'll have a great conditioning day and let the young guys scrimmage a little bit, let them go live. It was a good week."
Preparing so early for the Bruins is as much a function of having the extra week as it is the fact that UCLA runs the same pistol offense as the Wolf Pack.
"The pistol was a big reason for it," Tedford said. "But we just wanted to utilize it well, and we still had some crossover where we just did our stuff versus our stuff. We got some nice, fast looks at that. We pretty much did a period a day with UCLA."
Tedford also said that the pistol offense that Nevada ran was particularly potent because the Wolf Pack had a senior quarterback -Colin Kaepernick-who had run that offense for his entire career, and who was possessed of a unique skill set.
"It's the triple-option, but the quarterback really makes that thing run," Tedford said. "Kaepernick is great at it. It is a little different because there's more moving parts to it. Like, the Air Force option, when he's underneath the center and goes to dive back and guys are coming around, you can see that a lot easier than all the moving parts with the receivers in motion and running fly and all that type of stuff. You can see Air Force, when they're in the double-wing, that is what it is. With so many moving parts, it's another thing that really forces you to cover every phase of the game and it makes it tougher to prepare for.
"Preparing for the option is never easy, because it's really hard to simulate the precision that they do it with. But, with the motions and all that type of thing, that's the difference with (the pistol)."
Tomorrow, in a completely-closed practice, the younger players will get a chance to let loose, including some players who may end up redshirting this season-decisions that the team has yet to make entirely final.
"We're not there right now, yet. You start getting into the middle of the season and see what the injury situation is at that point," Tedford said. "But still, like, right now, if someone were to go down for a season, you may need to incorporate a receiver or somebody like that. It's kind of ongoing. Then, when it gets down to the point where there are three, four games left, then you really hate to burn a year."
Tomorrow's scrimmage won't have much bearing on that decision, but it won't be an entirely pointless exercise.
"It's more fun than anything else," Tedford said. "You see some guys who can make some plays, being in our offense and our defense. It's nothing we would hold against the kids, I should put it that way. If somebody flashes that they really do well, then you say, 'Wow,' but if someone doesn't do well, then you don't pigeonhole them because they haven't been doing our stuff (while on the scout team)."
After the disappointing loss against the Wildcats, Tedford has preached fundamentals all this week, coming up with the motto: Don't be tense; be intense.
"I'm not going to grind them all week long," Tedford said. "As we get into next week and we get closer to the game, we'll turn it up. We can't stay tense for two weeks straight, so we practiced fundamentals and all those types of things, but we didn't talk about next week's game or last week's game. We talked about just fundamentals and playing football and doing the things we need to do. We're not going to start this week and just grind them every day, 'Oh last week and UCLA next week!' I mean, you just can't stay at that pitch for two weeks straight. As we come back next week, then we'll work through a normal game week and work up into the intensity that you need on game day, not that we're not intense during the week, but I didn't want to be tense. I want to be intense. I don't want them walking around tense and thinking about all that. We're just playing football. Play football and be fundamentally sound. Play fast and be assignment-perfect. Not so much about games. There's a difference between intense and tense, and I've said that to them. I actually kind of came up with that myself. I'm kind of proud of that."
After a brief laugh at the media having noticed Tedford's new motto ("Thanks for noticing!" he said), the head coach got down to talking about his young receivers.
"They're coming along very well, very well," he said. "Tevin Carter has a little bit of a hamstring tweak, so he can't cut it loose, but Kaelin Clay is doing really well. Coleman Edmond's getting a lot better. Those guys are, we're pleased with those guys. They're doing opponent stuff (on the scout team)."
With Edmond only having two years to play two after transferring from Pierce College, Tedford feels that, despite the limited action he's seen, the junior should contribute fairly soon.
"I hope so," Tedford said. "It's very similar to Verran (Tucker), if you remember Verran last year. He always wanted to redshirt, and we told him, 'No, you're not going to redshirt.' He got frustrated with not being able to learn it right away and know all the different pieces, and we said, 'No, you'll get it.' There's going to be a time where a light's going to come on for you, just through preparation and game planning and so-on and so-forth. Sure enough, by the time we got to midyear, Verran ended up playing and played a lot and started in the bowl game. Coleman's coming along. He's just got to be patient, keep learning, because every week's a new week, with game planning and different formations and this, that and the other thing. It's not as simple as just, you don't run the same base formations all the time and the same exact formations all the time. It's constantly a learning process."
Another big young target downfield, of course, is Keenan Allen. While conflicting reports about his health last week, punctuated by limited action against Arizona have stirred some questions, wide receivers coach Kevin Daft shared his thoughts on Cal's next breakout phenom after Wednesday's practice.
"I think he's progressing well. He had an ankle injury that kind of set him back, and he's been fighting, getting through that," Daft said. "This bye week came at a good time for the whole team and definitely for him, kind of shaking the rust off and getting back to the swing of things. He's getting better every day, which is nice to see. As a true freshman, it's a lot to handle. It's a long season and, coming from high school, when you're usually the best player on the field, some of the games, you only play half the game, and I've talked to him. It's tough, because every weekend out, you're facing good corners and you take a lot of hits and things like that, so you've got to be able to stand that stuff over the season."
When asked to respond to the conflicting reports on Allen's health, Daft was noncommittal in his comments.
"I don't know if I'm supposed to comment on that stuff, injury and stuff like that," Daft said. "But he's just working through it and getting back in the swing of things and stuff like that. There's no hidden reason or anything going on or anything like that. He just needs to continue to get better and make sure he's full-go and ready to go, and doing that and just doing a better job every day."
After a stellar first two games against UC Davis and Colorado in which Allen piled up 256 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, the true freshman has been largely limited in the past two contests. Against Nevada-while he was battling through an ankle tweak-Allen had just one catch for 8 yards. Against the Wildcats, Allen saw little action despite appearing to be unhindered, rushing for six yards on one carry and catching one pass for nine yards and a first down. Will the young man who looks for all the world to be the Bears' biggest weapon be in full-effect next week in front of the Homecoming crowd?
"Definitely," Daft said. "It's a ways away, and just like all the guys, he's fighting something. You're rarely 100 percent and nothing's bothering you, and we have a lot of guys playing through some stuff, but they're doing a good job. They've had good practices, so it was nice to see that."
• Brian Schwenke was wearing a red jersey on the sidelines and did not participate.
• Trevor Guyton was in red, but was running on the sidelines and doing some leg exercises on the steps. While he was running at a decent clip, he was still a bit tentative.
• Allen returned the first kickoff rep during the special teams period, and Edmond fielded the first punt. Allen was again completely unhindered today and remains one of the smoothest runners with the most secure hands of the entire receiving corps.
• Giorgio Tavecchio was automatic on field goals out to beyond 30 yards.