A week has made all the difference for Cal sophomore fullback Brian Holley. From getting spot duty on special teams to garnering one of the more important roles on the field once Saturday's season opener kicks off in the much anticipated rematch against Tennessee, the former walk-on linebacker from Pomona (Calif.) will carry a huge role in the Jeff Tedford's running game the next handful of games.
A player who was an All-Inland Valley selection his senior season at Diamond Ranch high school in Pomona, Holley entered the Cal program hoping to one day earn a spot in the rotation and grabbing some "real" playing time on the gridiron.
Holley's opportunity has come a lot sooner than expected. When starter Will Ta'ufo'ou banged his knee in the Bears' last scrimmage of Fall Camp – a hit that resulted in a sprained MCL for Ta'ufo'ou - Coach Tedford was quick to name Holley the starter for the season opener Saturday evening.
"(Brian) has done a really nice job so far," Tedford said. "He doesn't have much experience but he's gotten used to the speed of the game pretty quickly."
Even though the fullback position isn't glamorous amongst all the happenings on the field, don't be surprised if Holley plays a key role in whether the Bears can avenge their opening day loss from last season against the Volunteers.
An offense that is built around its balance, Cal created no leverage on the ground last season in Knoxville. Despite having eventual Pac-10 offensive player-of-the-year Marshawn Lynch and this season's starter Justin Forsett carrying the ball, the duo managed to rack up only 86 yards on the ground on 17 carries against the Tennessee defense.
Those numbers are not bad by any means, but it was clear from the final score and from looking at the play in the trenches that the Bears struggled to move the line against the Vols.
Partly due to the "feeling out" process of then offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar's unique spread attack and part due to tight end Craig Stevens and his blocking prowess being knocked out on the game's first play, the running attack never got going last season in the opener.
Tedford emphasized after practice Monday afternoon how crucial a running game would be against the Vols' on Saturday and Holley – who will be seeing his first extensive time on the field – is definitely going to play a part in whether the Bears can pound the ball or not.
"I was excited man, I can't even lie," Holley described of his initial reaction when told he would start. "I've always just tried to stay prepared, stay mentally ready and it paid off."
A player who excelled on the defensive side of the ball in high school, Holley was offered a chance to walk-on as a fullback when offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and Tedford was able to see some film on the Diamond Ranch athlete.
"They gave me that opportunity," Holley said. "Of course, I had to take it."
Going through a redshirt season in 2005, Holley started to make an impression on coaches last season in practice through his hard work and tenacity, eventually earning Cal's Scout Team Player of the Year award.
Holley followed last year's effort with a productive spring and entered Fall Camp vying for a backup position along with redshirt freshman R.J. Garrett, Duke transfer Zach Smith and true freshman John Tyndall.
Now standing at 5-foot-11, 230-pounds, Holley's progression on the field has been noticeable to the point where he leapfrogged everyone to put himself in the position of a starter come kickoff on Saturday.
"It's unfortunate that my chance has come because of what happened to Will," Holley said. "But I'm just gonna go into the game Saturday prepared and ready. I stay studying the playbook and I feel I've picked up the offense pretty well up to this point."
"From what we've seen so far, the Tennessee defense throws a lot of looks at you, so we're going to have to be sharp."
Keeping Things Mum
Tedford was asked after practice if he has decided who would return kicks in Saturday's season opener against Tennessee, and he responded with a name Cal fans are familiar with. Actually, make that five names.
"We haven't quite decided yet," Tedford said. "Lavelle Hawkins is a guy that we are looking at back there. Brandon Hampton too, Jahvid Best, possibly DeSean Jackson. We really don't know yet."
To view some of Jackson's moves from last year, please click on the following link; 2006 DeSean Jackson All-American Highlight Video
Guarded Around Gibson
Considered to be arguably the most talented offensive lineman on the Bears' roster, and a potential NFL Draft Pick, senior tackle Mike Gibson has seen limited action all fall due to offseason shoulder surgery and a recent hamstring pull. Gibson sat out practice again Monday afternoon but Tedford said he should be good to go come game time.
"For the most part, everybody is healthy right now," Tedford said.
All About Those Colors
When asked what jersey's Cal might come out with Saturday, Holley paused for a second before laughing.
"Oh man," he said. "I'm not even sure yet. I wish I could tell you."
Tickets Still Available
Somehow or another, there are still a limited number of single-game tickets that can be purchased, this according to Cal media relations office Monday. For more information, go to CalBears.com, or call 800-GOBEARS.
Tennessee-Cal Predictor Contest
Though we've received a record number of entry's already for the Tennessee-Cal Predictor Contest, please don't hestitate to enter. It is free to all with a BearTerritory membership (even 7-Day Free Trial members), and the details can be found by clicking on the following link; Tennessee-Cal Predictor Contest
Chris Nguon is the lead football writer for BearTerritory. He's well known for his recruiting coverage in the star-studded Oakland Athletic League, plus his numerous contributions with The Daily Californian, UC-Berkeley's only independent, student-run newspaper. Nguon is also a correspondent with the Oakland Tribune, and will cover Cal football in the fall of 2007.