BERKELEY -- This week of practice for the California wide receiver corps began with an exhortation from coach Rob Likens to Bryce Treggs: “You can’t let 2 jam you up, man. If you do, you can’t go home. You can’t go home.”
That’s what this week is all about for much of the wide receiver corps, particularly Treggs, Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler -- all natives of the greater Los Angeles area, and all former UCLA recruits.
The 2 to whom Likens referred is the jersey number of former Bears commit Jaleel Wadood, like Treggs, a former Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco Brave.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going one-on-one with Jaleel,” says Treggs. “I haven’t played him since my senior year in high school, when he was a sophomore at Lakewood. It’ll be good to get back on the field with him.”
And if Wadood wins any of the one-on-one battles?
“Can’t go home. That’s what I told him: You’d better play well, because you can’t go home,” says Likens, grinning a Cheshire grin. “Wadood, I saw him play in high school. Kudos to him for breaking the starting lineup as a freshman. He plays with a lot of great confidence. He’s a safety that comes down. He’ll play at linebacker depth sometimes, and they count on him to make plays. He’s a smaller guy, but plays with a lot of spirit.”
There was a week back in early 2012 where Treggs contemplated jumping ship, and joining the Bruins.
“They were pushing a lot,” says Treggs. “I’m not going to lie: I considered going there, but I ended up sticking with my commitment. There was about a week, when everyone was decommitting from Cal, and we lost some guys, I considered it.”
That was the week before another of Treggs’ close friends – UCLA receiver Jordan Payton -- flipped from the Bears to Washington and eventually to the Bruins.
Down the stretch of that 2012 recruiting cycle, Rick Neuheisel was axed as the UCLA coach, and Jim Mora was hired. It was Mora who made that final push.
“That’s when I started taking them seriously,” Treggs says. “He told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to turn this program around. It’s not going to be the normal UCLA.’ For the most part, they’ve done that. They’re a great program. We have much respect for them, but we expect to win this game. I didn’t really consider them when Neuheisel was the coach, but Mora came in, and was a very influential guy, a public figure in the community.”
Though the Bruins have had plenty of success in the interim, Treggs hasn’t regretted his decision once.
“I’ve won eight games in my career, and one of them is against UCLA, so I’m trying to make it another one,” Treggs says. “I’m happy with my decision. I’m a Golden Bear. I’m just excited to play this game and hopefully, get this win.”
Like Treggs, Harper – of Encino (Calif.) Crespi -- got involved with the Bruins late, after Mora had signed on.
“It was a couple days before signing day, where I was told that I could have had an offer if I talked to the coaches,” says Harper. “I wasn’t really interested, because to them, I was a fall-back receiver. I wasn’t interested at the last minute.”
Since he decided to come to Berkeley, Harper has tallied 131 catches for 1,701 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air as one of Cal’s top playmakers. So much for being an afterthought.
“I talked with Neuheisel a long time before recruiting was over, and I don’t know exactly when, but we talked a couple times,” Harper says. “I went to go see their spring practice and one of their games. Devin Lucien told me that they were ready to offer me if I called them, but I wasn’t trying to talk to them, because I knew that they were going to offer me. It was a couple days before signing day, so there was no point.”
At that point, Harper had already been committed to the Bears for nearly two months.
Like Treggs, Harper has plenty of friends on the other sideline, several of whom he’ll be facing on Saturday.
“I know Ishmael Adams the most and Randall Goforth,” says Harper. “Randall was actually my roommate, but he’s not playing in this game because he has shoulder problems. I was his roommate when we went to Vegas and Texas for Keyshawn Johnson seven-on-seven. Ishmael, I hung out with him a lot a couple summers before we came out for college, and he’s one of my homies that I hang out with when I go back home. He’s a close friend.”
Adams – a redshirt sophomore out of Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian – is starting at corner as a redshirt sophomore after leading the Bruins in interceptions last season, and ranking seventh on the UCLA defense with 61 tackles. This season, Adams has emerged as a special teams weapon, returning eight punts for 109 yards and 16 kickoffs for an average of 25.1 yards, with two touchdowns. He also has two picks and has made 18 tackles, with three pass breakups and five passes defended.
“We talk to each other in the offseason, and it’s definitely going to be a competition between me and Ish, just like it has been last year and with Goforth the last couple years,” Harper says. “There’s definitely going to be a lot of competition.”
Lawler’s story with UCLA is quite different from his two teammates. His recruitment came down to which California team got his final official visit.
“UCLA, during 2012, Neuheisel got fired, and Neuheisel was recruiting me a lot,” says Lawler. “When the coaching change happened, Mora came in and they didn’t stop recruiting me. They kept going. I was actually going to take my fifth visit to UCLA. I ended up taking it here. They were recruiting me strong. I have one good friend on the coaching staff – he coaches the DBs – we’ve known each other for quite some time, over 15 years. They didn’t stop recruiting me at all.”
What, then, caused Lawler – a native of Pomona, Calif., out of Upland (Calif.) High School -- to decide to visit Berkeley?
“I wanted to take five visits, and I wanted to just get out,” Lawler says. “I wanted to get out of the house, and this visit was just to take a visit, because I wanted to take all five. A lot of friends pressured me into taking the visit, because I had a lot of friends that had offers from Cal, as well, and we’d always talk and link up to see where we were going to visit. I was talking to my friend Randall, and then, I was talking to Brandon Beaver – he’s a safety on Washington – and he happened to take the visit to Cal with me, and Randall went to UCLA.
There wasn’t even, Lawler says, a recruiting-based reason for visiting Cal over UCLA. But, when he got to Berkeley, things changed.
“I was a silent commit to Oregon State,” says Lawler. “I had a good time here. I felt like it was a good atmosphere. I don’t regret my decision, at all.”
If there’s one thing Lawler has been known for in his time at Cal, it’s been his acrobatic catches. If there’s one thing Harper has been known for, it’s making something out of nothing. If there’s one thing Treggs has been known for, it’s been stretching the field. None of them did any of that last week against the Huskies.
Now, they’ll be contending with their friends on the other side of the ball, trying to right some wrongs.
“We’re very disappointed after last week,” Treggs says. “You put on the film, and that wasn’t us on the field. That wasn’t us at all. We played very out of character, so this week, our focus is to get back to the basics, getting back to the fundamentals, getting back to the things that got us to the second-ranked offense in the country before we struggled against Washington.”
The Huskies took away the deep ball on Saturday, holding Jared Goff and his receiving corps to not a single catch of over 20 yards for the first time this season.
“They weren’t letting us get over the top on them really too much, so we had to do some underneath stuff, and unfortunately dug ourselves in a hole early and weren’t able to do that with the type of defense they were running to get out of it,” Goff says.
The Bruins, though, aren’t built the same on defense.
“That’s what we’re going to be looking for early. It doesn’t fit their scheme to do what Washington did, but it doesn’t mean they can’t do it,” says Likens. “A defense can do anything they want to, and it’s the offense’s job to find out where they’re unsound and where they’re not good. We’ll be looking early to kind of see what their plan is, but they’re more of a man team, a cover-three team, than they are a deep quarters team like Washington was. It’ll be interesting to see what they’re going to do. We’ve talked about it, and we have a plan if they do do that.”
“It’s definitely one of our focuses,” says Treggs of going over the top. “We’re a big-play offense, so we’re going to try to hit the big play, but if they’re taking away the big play, then we have to be smart, and we have to hit the underneath routes and the crossing routes. Last week, where we messed up is, we got behind, and we didn’t have time to really hit those underneath routes and stuff like that, so we had to go deep. This week, we’re going to try to make big plays, but if they take it away – if they drop everybody back into coverage – then we’ll hit the underneath routes, also. That’s where I come in.”
Even if he has to do it against Wadood.
“We’ve touched on that. I’m not gonna lie: We’ve touched on that all week. We’ve challenged the guys, that this is a game that’s going to kind of be our identity for the rest of the year, is how I challenged them,” says Likens. “The wins and the losses, sometimes you can’t control that through your singular position, but I want to see the way they play, their effort, the intent of their heart out on the field on Saturday. I want that to define who they are, and that’s what we’ve challenged them to do.”
It certainly won’t be easy. UCLA is sixth in the Pac-12 in pass defense, with four picks and 260.8 yards per game allowed through the air, better than Washington’s 274.7. The Bruins are also fifth in the Pac-12 in passer efficiency defense.
“I think Fabian Moreau is a very physical corner,” says Likens. “He’s going to present a challenge to us, because he uses his hands well, and if he grabs a hold of you, he does a really good job of pressing at the line of scrimmage and getting his hands on you, so we’ve been preparing for that. We’ve seen a couple corners this year like that, but I don’t know if they’ve been as strong as him. I’m a little concerned with that. They’re definitely the most athletic secondary we’ve seen all season, no question there.”
Another familiar name also made an appearance: Former Cal recruit Tahaan Goodman.
“Tahaan Goodman will hit you,” says Likens. “He’s good man. He’ll strike you. He’ll jam you up.”
It’ll be up to the Los Angeles-heavy receiving corps to respond, and respond differently than they did last week.
“I would say we didn’t have that edge,” says Treggs. “We didn’t have enough energy, and that’s what it really came down to. We started off too slow, went three-and-out on our first drive, second drive didn’t score. We just didn’t have enough energy. It’s definitely the sign of a young team, and a team that hasn’t won a lot of games, but that wasn’t us on the field, and that won’t be us this weekend. We’re going to come out, we’re going to come out fast and we’re going to do what we do.”