Brennan Scarlett Transfer, Family Pride and Old Scores Mark 118th Big Game Week

One of the biggest story lines off the field will play a big role on the gridiron in the 118th Big Game, as Brennan Scarlett goes against his former team.

Eight seconds. That’s how long it took for California head coach Sonny Dykes to address the transfer of defensive end Brennan Scarlett from Cal to rival Stanford. Eight seconds, on March 8, 2015.

It’s an eight seconds perhaps Dykes would want back, as he curtly addressed Scarlett’s departure:

“Gone,” he said at the time. “DeVante Wilson’s here. We kind of thought that might be a possibility, and that’s why we took him.”

As for Scarlett staying in conference, Dykes said at the time, “Don’t know anything about it. Don’t care. Don’t know.”

Scarlett showed up at times after he declared his intention to transfer, sometimes to a chilly reception, sometimes to a warm one, but always, there was a tinge of awkwardness. He’d left. More than that: He’d changed sides.

Scarlett hadn’t been healthy enough to play in a Big Game in his four years in Berkeley. Now, he's healthy, and he's coming.

So are the Bears, who became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 with a 54-24 win over Oregon State on Saturday. It didn’t take too long for Big Game to come up in the locker room, even amidst the celebration.

“I’d say, about three minutes after the game, I was already like, ‘We’re playing Stanford this week; I’m fired up,’” said linebacker Hardy Nickerson, Jr.. “It’s Big Game Week. You’ve got to prepare a little extra, watch a little more film, lift a little bit more. Every little bit counts, and I can’t wait to step out there Saturday.”

There were several WWII-era players who played for the Bears while enrolled at Berkeley for a Navy training program, then played at Stanford after the war, including Richard Madigan, Fred Boensch, Jim Cox, Marty Anderson, George Quist, Bill Hacten and Babe Higgins. Dale Rubin played for Cal in 1962, then transferred and played for Stanford from 1964-65. 

George Quist moved to Cal to play when Stanford shut down its football program during World War II, and he came back to Stanford to play against the Golden Bears in 1946.

Scarlett never took a single snap against the Cardinal. He was injured in each of his previous chances to play in the Big Game. Still, there seems to be a bit of sting left in the transfer.

Dykes doesn’t get rankled about many things, at least publicly. But, when asked about Scarlett this week, though his emotions are tempered a bit, the echo of those eight seconds whispers through.

"Yeah, I'm not going to talk about Brennan this week,” Dykes said. “The best thing for me is to talk about our players; not theirs."

Nickerson was of a similar mind.

"He's not with us right now,” said the second-generation Bear. “I'm just really focused on all the guys that are with us in our locker room right now, and getting them prepared to play in this game, and leaning on them for this game. That’s where my focus is, right now. I'm not really thinking about the other team right now."

Linebacker Jalen Jefferson – who was a recruiting classmate of Scarlett’s – is a bit more pointed. There’s a little extra juice this week.

“I would say so. He transferred to our rival school, so that’s going to be big for the offense to attack him any way we can,” Jefferson says. “He’s still our boy off the field, and we love him, regardless, but when you get in between the lines, it’s go time.”

Scarlett told ESPN during fall camp that the conversations he had before he transferred were “awkward,” but “had to be made,” and that it was a mature affair. “There’s no bad blood anywhere,” Scarlett said.

"I respect Brennan, love him a lot,” says fifth-year senior offensive guard Jordan Rigsbee, who, along with Scarlett, was a redshirt during the last season Cal reached the postseason – 2011. “At the end of the day, you're playing a game of football, and we're going to play as hard as we can, and we're going to have a good time doing it. We just focus on playing football, and whoever's lined up, is lined up. He's still a good buddy."

Scarlett’s intention was to transfer to get his Master’s degree, as well as to play with his younger brother – running back Cameron Scarlett -- but he's been much more than just another student and a big brother.

What the Cardinal have gotten is what the Bears thought they were going to get when he came on as a freshman in 2011. That season, he played in just three games. His high-water mark came in 2012 – Jeff Tedford's final season at the helm – when he played in nine games, tallied 40 tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss. He played in just six games over the next two years, totaling 10 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

This season, on the other side of the rivalry, he’s notched 25 tackles, including 3.5 sacks. He’s helped bolster a very thin Stanford defensive line that, with his presence, has helped the Cardinal to pace the Pac-12 in total defense (348.4 yards per game allowed), and now stands at fourth in the league in rushing defense (134.0 ypg).

"They've played him inside and outside," Dykes says. "He's played a lot of tackle for them. I'm sure they'll move him around. He's been effective both places. He's done a nice job of playing defensive tackle, and also end, as well."

Scarlett has been that much more important, given that the Cardinal have four defensive linemen for three spots -- Scarlett, Aziz ShittuSolomon Thomas and Jordan Watkins.

"I can't possibly imagine getting through the season, and I certainly cannot imagine Stanford being able to, without Brennan Scarlett," says Richard Aeytia of TheBootleg.com. "Him, Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas, but Scarlett especially, has been rock solid all year long. Coach David Shaw talked about it right from the beginning that he's got a motor that doesn't stop, and that's one of the best compliments you can get from a coach, and you can see it out there on the field. He's been fantastic, and when there have been plays that have been needed to be made, more often than not along this defensive line, Brennan Scarlett has been involved. Stanford doesn't get a lot of transfers. It's a very rare scenario. He was a great one to get, and I can't possibly imagine Stanford being where they are, at this point, without him."

"These are the kinds of guys who are going to scratch, claw, do whatever it takes to win,” Rigsbee says. “Their front seven always leads their defense. We've got to focus on our game, and keep our tempo up."

And, maybe, get a little revenge on a former compatriot.


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