BERKELEY -- For the first time in three weeks, California had both Trevor Davis and Kenny Lawler on the field at the same time, and both caught passes for the Bears in full pads as Cal prepares for a Thursday clash with USC. Before they went down, they accounted for 11 of the Bears’ 36 passing plays of 20 or more yards. Since they went down, Cal has just seven over the past two games.
It’s certainly a welcome sight for outside receivers coach Rob Likens, who sums up the return of his two downfield treats in just a single word.
“It’s confidence,” Likens says. “One thing about Kenny and Trevor, going up and getting balls, when [Jared] Goff gets in trouble, he knows that, last resort, if his first or second read’s not there, he can always turn back or he can find one of those guys and just throw it up with great confidence, knowing that they’re either going to catch it, or prevent an interception, so that’s great for the quarterback.”
“It feels really good says Davis, who has 21 catches for 360 yards and four touchdowns. “It’s been a while. My legs still need to come back.”
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Davis went down with what he describes as a sprained ligament in his neck, suffered while taking back the final kickoff in the fourth quarter against UCLA. The hit, he says, made his whole body go numb. He didn’t pass out. He didn’t black out. Instead of his bell ringing, it was his whole body that rang.
“I just went into paralysis,” says Davis. “The shock made my whole spine shut down, and I went into paralysis for a minute or so, because of the shock. It made it all tense up, because it was protecting itself, I guess. I lost all movement.”
Davis, though, didn’t have any time to start thinking about the implications of whole-body paralysis, as feeling began to return to his fingers and toes after about a minute. Still, for that minute, he was yelling at his teammates to call the trainers over, as his only movement was from the chin, up.
“It was like a stinger, so I couldn’t feel anything.” Davis says. “I felt like I was just numb, everywhere. From the chin down, numb. I could talk, and I was talking, but I couldn’t move anything.
“It was pretty freaky. I was in shock. Luckily, it came back pretty fast. I didn’t get to the point of thinking too much about the future. I was more in shock the whole time. I was just in shock, screaming at people to go get the trainers, because I don’t know what’s going on. Don’t touch me, just get the trainer, because I can’t feel anything.”
The thought that the paralysis may be permanent “was coming,” Davis says, but then, his fingers moved. “That,” he says, “was a good feeling.”
Davis hopes to get the red jersey off for Sunday’s practice, and he’s been chomping at the bit to get back on the field. But, he has to be careful what he wishes for. There were times he was a bit shaky on Saturday, particularly on his first kickoff return rep in three weeks.
“I was falling and stuff for no reason,” Davis laughs. “The legs are coming back. They started getting heavy early. I couldn’t find the holes as well. My legs weren’t making hard cuts because they felt heavy and all that, and running full speed, I thought I was just going to fall over. I’ll get back though.”
The neck and the head are now all good-to-go.
“It feels a lot better,” says Davis, who had experienced stiffness in the first week or so after the hit. “Hopefully – I’ve got to go talk to them right now – hopefully, I can be out of this (pulls at his red jersey) tomorrow, and if not, it should be off by Monday or Tuesday, whenever we come back.”
Davis accounted for six of Cal’s 43 passes of over 20 yards this season, and three of the Bears’ 14 passing plays of 40 yards or more. He also has two kickoffs returned for touchdowns, which make him as much a threat on special teams as USC’s Nelson Agholor.
“Any time you look on film, if you’re the opponent, and you see a guy take one to the house, your ears perk up,” says Likens. “Then, when you see two of them, that really gets your attention, so you start thinking, ‘Uh oh, this guy’s dangerous.’ Same thing when we look at their punt returner. That dude’s dangerous.”
While he’s not got the same juice against USC as the receivers who hail from Los Angeles, Davis always got the old NorCal-SoCal rivalry to lean back on.
“Oh, yeah, ever since I was a kid,” Davis says. “I’ve never been in something like this. It’s a big rivalry, and it’s going to be fun going down there and doing it. It’s my first time seeing it. Last time I saw it, it was in this stadium, because we played them here, last year. That’s going to be really fun.”
Lawler has a new practice jersey this week – a nice, crisp white – as opposed to the dingy shirts his teammates have been sporting. Lawler at first tries to pass that off as symbolic: “I thought I had to start new, coming off the injury, get a new look going, you feel me?” he says.
In reality? “I just lost my jersey.”
The Bears lost Lawler – who has 29 catches for 404 yards and a team-high six touchdowns -- in the second quarter against Oregon, when Lawler’s ankle got rolled up and sprained.
“The second series of the second quarter, I ran a slant route, and when I caught the ball, the DB tackled me from the legs, and my ankle laid flat on the ground, while he pressed on it with his body. We were in the motion of turning, and it got kind of twisted up under him.”
Lawler tried to run a route after halftime, but he came up lame again. After making big headlines earlier this season with his one-handed snag against Sacramento State, and his famous 3XL gloves -- a pair of which he gave to an admiring elementary school student visiting Memorial Stadium on Saturday -- Lawler will finally get a chance to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, just over 30 miles from his childhood home.
Being out for two weeks now has certainly chaffed the redshirt sophomore, but this coming week, he’ll be able to fulfill a childhood dream, and make his triumphant return, all in the same trip.
“Man, that gives me […] I’m so hyped, man,” Lawler says. “I’m so hyped. It’s homecoming. I’m going to have all my fam in there, all my friends in there. I’ve just got to put on for the city. It makes it that much more special, because I had dreams of playing in the Coliseum, and now, they’re finally coming true. Big dreams and aspirations.”