Carlos Strickland is healthy and ready to produce as spring opens

BERKELEY -- Finally healthy for the first time in two years, redshirt freshman Carlos Strickland is ready for his bite at the apple.

BERKELEY -- California wide receiver Carlos Strickland was, in short, dominant on Monday.

Strickland was all over the field, making physical catch after physical catch, against some of the Bears' best and most physical defensive backs.

"He came out of nowhere today," said redshirt freshman quarterback Ross Bowers. "I don't think people understand that he's not been healthy this whole time, since he's been here. I'm not trying to make an excuse or anything for him, but seeing him close to 100 percent out here, you kind of saw today, what that can be like, and it's a very special kid. He's a very different receiver. He's not a primmadona, not a stereotype receiver. He's a quiet kid, who's just a hard worker and does his job. It was so refreshing seeing him have a good day today. Right now, all it is, is believing in himself, because he hasn't played football in so dang long."

Strickland has not played in a game since his senior year of high school, and even then, he was in pain.

Strickland is built lopsided. He admits to having "a little scoliosis," and that, during his senior year of high school, his right hip -- which is higher than his left, by a touch -- began bothering him. 

"I'm out of whack," he said. "It's kind of funny."

As a four-star prospect out of Dallas (Tex.) Skyline, opponents certainly didn't think he was too funny.

One of the most coveted receivers in the nation, and a Semper Fidelis All-American, he hauled in 41 receptions for 896 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns, while adding three rushes for 46 yards and one touchdown on the ground for one of the nation’s top teams, which finished 14-1 overall and reached the Texas 6A Division I state finals. All while suffering through pain in his hip. Not bad for lopsided.

"I feel it all the time," he said. "I played with it in high school, with my hips unaligned, and I probably shouldn't have." Strickland's hip continued to bother him once he got to Berkeley. He couldn't quite get going during fall camp, and in September -- the week of the Bears' opener against Grambling State -- that lopsidedness caught up with him again, and he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He underwent surgery and was largely shut down for most of the year, only truly practicing in full late in the season, and during preparation for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

Four weeks ago, Strickland underwent clean-up surgery on his knee, and since then, he's been as healthy as he's ever been, and he's gotten bigger and stronger. He's worked with trainers to strengthen his core so his hips can "lock in," and has worked on his abdominal strength and his hamstrings to accomplish that goal.

"When I first got here in the summer, I was 204, in the 200-range, but now, I'm 218, 219 up there," said the 6-foot-4 Strickland. "I didn't put on a lot of weight, because I'm trying to keep my speed. I'm trying to keep it around this area."

One of the knocks early on of Strickland was that he was largely unpolished. As a 6-foot-4, 200-plus-pound receiver, he was always the biggest, strongest guy on the field, so all he had to do was run his routes, catch the ball, bully the opposing defensive backs and go. Over the last eight months, he's been coached up by head coach Sonny Dykes and graduate assistant David Gru.

"He's getting better," said Dykes. "He missed a lot of time. He was hurt, had a hip thing, and he came in, in not-great shape, wasn't completely well. Took some time to get him well, so he's still getting in shape, still kind of learning how to practice. Our guys have got to be in great shape. We're getting a ton of reps. It's happening fast."

As quickly as former offensive coordinator Tony Franklin's attack was reputed to move, practices this spring under new OC Jake Spavital appear to move at a much quicker pace, an observation confirmed by Strickland's recruiting classmate, Bowers.

"We run about 600 plays a day," Bowers said. "It's awesome. This is on hyperdrive. With coach Franklin, we would always look to the sideline, act like we were going to snap it, then look to the sideline for the play, and that takes a really long time, and when you have Jared [Goff], who's a veteran, he changes a lot of plays, so that takes time. Now, we're just focusing on, 'Let's get the play call in and let's go go go.' Watching all their film, from the past, with Texas A&M, West Virginia and Houston [Spavital's previous stops], half their plays, the defense is all not in a stance. It's snapping it when no one's even ready ... Coach Spav has really put an emphasis on let's go fast, fast, fast."

Getting ready for that pace has taken time for Strickland, but now that he's fully healthy, he's ready to step on the gas.

"I've learned a lot, just coming here, learning from the older guys, all the receivers from last year, and learning from coaches, learning from coach Dykes, coach Gru," he said. "In high school, I was just bigger than everybody."

Now, not only is he bigger, but he's truly healthy for the first time in two years, and with six receivers departing after last season, he has a rare opportunity ahead of him.

"I forgot what it feels like to be healthy, honestly, because I've been hurt so long," Strickland said. "Hopefully, it keeps going."

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