McCLURE: Feels Like the First Time
BAY AREA MEDIA DAY: Emptying the Notebook
BAMD: Handicapping the QB Race
MESSAGE BOARDS: Fall Camp Central
SAN FRANCISCO -- John Hiatt penned "Have a Little Faith in Me," years before any player on the California football roster was born. If any of them are familiar at all with the song, it's the version sung by Mandy Moore.
When the road gets dark, Hiatt croons, And you can no longer see, Just let my love throw a spark, An' have a little faith in me.
Amorous exhortations aside, that's exactly what the new Bears coaching staff has preached to its new charges. Have a little faith.
The Pac-12 media certainly didn't. Voted to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North, with a first-year staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, perhaps one of the toughest schedules in all of college football with three preseason top-25 teams in the first five weeks, an unsettled competition between three rookie quarterbacks and a 3-9 record last season, there's no reason to think that this team will win more than four games.
"I can't say I blame the media for knowing that we are a young team, and if you're on the outside of our program and you're looking at Cal football, it doesn't look very good," says first-year head coach Sonny Dykes. "From the inside we think it looks very good. We're around our players all the time. We know the talent that exists in our program. We know the dedication and the buy-in that these guys have had ... We need to improve every week. We need to play well. If we do that, we will build confidence and I think this team can do something special."
Coming off of a season that was especially horrid, Dykes's enthusiasm has to be taken at face value. He knows that.
"It's all puppy dogs and rainbows right now," he says, "but we'll find out about how tough they're going to be when things aren't easy."
2013 will not be any easier than the 2012 campaign which cost Jeff Tedford his job, a season which caused sophomore wide receiver Bryce Treggs -- a dyed-in-the-wool Bear since birth, thanks to his father Brian – to question his National Signing Day decision to continue the family business right where it started.
After repeated punches to the gut, Treggs – who came into Cal promising Rose Bowls along with his fellow signees – called Brian one night.
"It was very disappointing. At times, you were like, what's going to happen. In the middle of the season, there were doubts. It was just a bad experience overall," says Treggs.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder confided in his father, "You know Dad, I don't know if I made the right decision. Notre Dame, they're playing for the national championship, and Notre Dame was one of my top schools," he said.
Brian didn't miss a beat.
"He was like ‘Maybe you should have gone to Notre Dame,'" Treggs recalls. "His first year, they started off 4-8, and I did a little bit worse with 3-9. But he said, you know we're in the same situation. I just have to turn the program around. Now I have my opportunity to do the same thing."
Snapped back into perspective by a verbal slap to the back of the head, Treggs soldiered on. A matter of weeks after the season-ending loss to Oregon State, Tedford was ousted. Treggs had to become a leader. He had to keep his team together much as he'd helped keep the 2012 recruiting class together following the defection of defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau.
After the new staff arrived, Treggs was taken aback again, as wide receivers coach Rob Likens and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin issued a wake-up call to the entire team: Nobody's spot is safe. If you were a starter – a scholarship player – a walk-on may very well surpass you. Then, Likens took Treggs aside. He told the then-freshman that he was going to depend on him, he was going to push him, he was going to challenge him, but he needed him to lead from the front. Likens has not let up.
"I think he pushes me well, because he sees great things in me, and he sees how good I can be," Treggs says. "He wants me to take a leadership role. I think he holds me to higher standards because he sees what I can be."
To a man, every single coach preaches the same doctrine to each player: Greatness requires commitment, sacrifice and – above all – faith.
"They give us a whole bunch of faith, because throughout this whole summer and spring, we've been working so hard and we've gained this mentality that we expect to win when we step out on the field," says Treggs. "What you guys saw last year was an offense that struggled to put up points at times. This year, as soon as Coach Franklin got on campus, he said from this point forward you guys need to walk, act, talk and live like you're the best offense in the country. So we have a new attitude about our offense now, and every day we're planning to go out there and put up 50 points. So on August 31st, if we don't go put up 50 points, we didn't execute as well as we should have."
Faith and accountability – in and to oneself; in and to staff, teammates, university and football program – is a two-way street. Players, fans, students and alumni had been burned by unfulfilled promises and wasted potential, and have rightfully been more than twice shy. When Dykes and his band rode into town, they had quite a wall to climb, and a lot of trust to earn.
"Any time you take over a coaching job at a new university, the biggest thing you worry about is what's going to be the buy-in: How long is it going to take?" Dykes says. "Sometimes it takes a long time for those guys to buy into your program. To their credit, the buy-in occurred on day one. They were hungry, they came to Cal to play championship football. They were disappointed with the outcome of last year's season. This is a focused group, this is a group that has worked incredibly hard in the off-season. I think we will surprise some people."
For the man behind such a high-octane offense, Dykes is far from the energy-drink-swilling, non-stop buzz of his assistants, and nothing at all like the breakneck pace at which his teams play. But, he's got vision, and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals.
"He has a vision. He knows what he wants," says projected starting MIKE linebacker Nick Forbes. "He's very knowledgeable about football. All of the staff is very knowledgeable about football, but they're also humble enough to know what things are right and what things are wrong. I admire that as a player and I respect where they were before, and how successful they've been in the past, and those things I really think guys will gravitate to. There's tremendous respect for coach Dykes, and what he's doing, and you don't have to stand on top of the world and say ‘You know I want to be great' to be great. You just have to mean it, and I can tell that he knows what he's talking about."
Dykes has visited San Francisco 49ers OTAs this summer, and he cites as one of his closest confidantes a man who seemingly subscribes to a world view diametrically opposed to his: N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren.
"He's kind of an uptight defensive guy, and I'm kind of an easier-going offensive guy, and we have similar backgrounds," says Dykes. "He was in the Big 12, I was in the Big 12. He went to a mid-major – which, I hate that term, mid-major – but he went to one and I was at one. He's a guy who I've talked to through the years. He's a sharp guy.
"I like hearing points of view that are different from mine. His deal would be, right now, everybody sitting around this table [at Bay Area College Football Media Day] is going to try to lie to you and deceive you, where my deal is, everybody who's sitting around the table right now is going to try and help us so we can do well. He sees things differently than I do, and that's why we enjoy visiting each other."
Not only has the staff changed since Tedford's departure; the entire heart of the program – its personality, its very soul – has been rebuilt, from the bottom up.
"Everything is different," says Forbes, who modeled the new uniforms the Bears will sport when they take the field for the first time on Aug. 31 against Northwestern, sartorially inaugurating the new era. "We even got a new strength sports medicine staff.
"It's funny; we're the old folks," says Forbes, a member of the vaunted 2010 recruiting class which has played in just one bowl game. "Even the coaches are rookies. It's a treat to be one of the last of the old era and be impactful and instrumental under the new transition, but you don't want to go 3-9, lose a bowl game, not make a bowl game, because that's the history I had at Cal. So for this to be a new thing, it's not like we're afraid of it. We're embracing it and we're excited for it, and we're just going to build upon the old Tedford era."
Everything, Forbes says, is different, least of all the uniforms. Something as small as having practices open to fans and media is not just a hit among scribes and well-wishers, but among the rank and file, as well.
"I would say the transparency," Forbes says, when asked about the biggest change in the program. "The open practices, we love having people out there watching us practice. The fans get closer to us and we get closer to the fans. We're branching out, doing a lot more, we went to a couple of basketball games, things like that, and I think it's very important because we get a lot of heat for football being a revenue sport and getting all the attention. For us to integrate more with the community, I think it's very important for us as a program and us as a sport."
Apocryphal stories abound about the new way of doing business. One source said that, when Dykes attended a regular meeting of the campus head coaches, another coach remarked, "It's nice to see the head football coach here."
When surprise and raised eyebrows greeted the Bears as they filed into basketball games last winter, Dykes was taken aback. How had the team never shown up, en masse, at another campus sporting event before? It just didn't compute. "We're all part of the same community," he said. "This is just how we always did things in the South. You support each other."
When Dykes took the helm in December, he vowed to give the program back to the school, the fans, the alumni and the players. This wasn't his program. He was just taking care of it. He would not jealously guard it. He would not hide it away from prying eyes. That was his promise, at least when he had a microphone in front of him. He's made the same promise in the locker room.
"One thing that I like about this new change in the program is that everything is open," says Treggs. "This isn't just our football team. There's 60,000 fans coming to see us play, so I think that they deserve to see us practice and see what we're going through. I like that change, I think it's more of a family environment."
Above all, the staff's faith in itself has been the bedrock upon which rests the faith the players have placed in them.
"We have a belief in a system that we think works," says Dykes.
"The first day, the coach sat us down in a meeting, and we covered the whole offense in 15 minutes," says Treggs. "Once everybody saw that, we were like, ‘No no, we believe.' It was the best feeling ever because the fact that we'll do a few little things great instead of a bunch of things average is going to make us a whole lot better. We're not going to be on the field thinking. We already know, and we just have to execute."
Have a Little Faith in Me
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