The scion of Hudson Auto, Cal inside receiver Ray Hudson brings the blue collar to Blue Collar, Gold Swagger

Like his father and grandfather before him, Ray Hudson is a blue-collar, no-frills mechanic, bringing an unassuming dirtiness and toughness to a young receiving corps, as he hunts for his first touchdown on another continent.

During fall camp before a college football season, it's easy to tell the veterans from the youngsters, and not just by the preponderance of facial hair.

The old guys still have a spring in their step, two weeks in. They know how to pace themselves. Younger players -- particularly receivers -- tend to go through bouts of dead legs.

Fourth-year California junior inside receiver Ray Hudson isn't the fastest. Not even close. But he is savvy. He knows how to save his legs.

As the receivers stretch out on the sidelines before Cal's 15th day of camp, Hudson putters down the field, riding in the passenger seat of an equipment cart, hauling crash pads and agility pylons. As it squeaked to a halt, he smirked. His eyebrows did their best Senator John Blutarsky impression: Two little wiggles.

"Uber," he said.


When it comes to parsing the Cal football program's motto, Hudson is decidedly more blue collar than gold swagger. Even his name -- Ray -- feels like it belongs in red stitching on a white name patch, smudged with a fingerprint of power steering fluid, on top of a grease-stained set of denim coveralls, with blackened knuckles and an unidentifiable smear of something matting his forearm hair, a mix of sweat and brake dust clinging to his forehead.

"I mean, I couldn't have put it any better," laughed Jacob Peeler, Cal's inside receivers coach. "That's him. The guy has a dirtiness to him, but he knows how to turn that switch on, when to turn it on, when to turn it off."

It turns out, those greasy coveralls run in the family.

"That was my grandfather and my dad," Hudson said. "They'd throw it on each day. I come out here with my hard hat, and get to work ... I would go down and help out as much as possible. My dad, he can fix anything, so it's always one of those things around the house, my mom will say, 'Call someone, hire someone.' Nope. 'Nope, I'll try.'"

Hudson's grandfather -- another Ray -- founded Hudson Auto Care at 495 El Camino Real in Menlo Park 60 years ago, right near the Stanford campus. His father, Richard, who owns and operate Shell gas stations and owns property in Livermore and Pleasanton, still goes down to the shop to work.

When Hudson's grandfather passed, the business passed to Richard. 

"My dad still goes in and works on cars, because he loves it," Hudson said. "He grew up under his father, working for him, and it was something I've been able to go up there a bunch and work on cars, take that time how the manual labor, the ins and outs, which obviously has helped in a huge way."

Under the hood, all that matters is the work, and that's what was passed down to Hudson and his brother, Brandon, who turns 27 next week. At the age of five, Hudson remembers heading to the shop to clean up the whole yard, for a simple reward: a trip to a local hole-in-the-wall burger joint, Oasis.

"My dad used to bribe us. If you come up and clean the area, we'd get to go to that place, and the mechanics would always use us -- whenever we'd go there -- they'd always convince my dad to order pizza for everybody," Hudson said. "We'd deliver it. They'd use us."

***** Hudson began delivering for head coach Sonny Dykes as soon as he was hired at Cal. He and and the man who would become his best friend, Jared Goff, were the two loudest voices in keeping the 2013 recruiting class together. He sold Cal on its own merits to his fellow recruits, just like his uncle -- Bernie Kelly, a member of the Bears' 1957 College World Series baseball team -- sold Cal to him.

A week after Goff helped him earn his offer in the summer of 2012, Hudson and his family had a reunion dinner. Hudson talked to his uncle -- his mother Lynne's older brother -- about the Bears. Kelly had always talked to his nephew about the glory days, but, Hudson said, "I didn't know too too much about Cal. It was something that was a foreign thing to me. One of my first games here was through recruiting, so it was a big difference for me. He was able to show me the traditions, which I didn't know too much about."

The dinner was at a restaurant that, like Hudson Auto, was just down the road from Stanford.

"We talked about the traditions, and how everything wrapped around football," Hudson said. "He loved going to the games, and just being a part of that community here, because everyone's so tight-knit. He said that was some of the best times of his life."

Soon after, he committed.

Even before that talk, Hudson was enthralled by Berkeley. Their personalities matched.

"I just loved everything that it meant," he said. "It was different, I guess. It was out of the norm. I really wanted to be a part of something that had that rich tradition. Cal, ever since I found about it, was on their radar, I looked into it even more. It was something that's just appealing to anyone, and I don't know how you don't come here."

Like Berkeley, Hudson is ... a little off. As in, walks-around-his-house-naked-with-no never-mind-paid-to-his roommates, off. Hudson's shenanigans as a roommate are well documented. Most players will try to listen in on interviews about them, to make sure nothing untoward is said. Hudson listens in to ensure that all of those untoward things are said. 

"We're all kind of goofballs," said fellow inside receiver Matthew Rockett. "It's kind of hard not to be, when we're at football all day and we have to be serious."

Hudson encourages the doubtful Rockett to describe his most insufferable attributes as a roommate. 

"I don't know if I can say," Rockett laughed. A Cal media relations staffer quips, "Interview over."

Hudson, stretching nearby, gives a modest, encouraging wave of the hand. Proceed.

He did have a GPS app that monitored Goff's whereabouts when they were roommates (which led to water balloon attacks), after all.

"That's weird," Rockett said.

"The whole house had it!" Hudson chirped.

"Ray doesn't like to use towels when he gets out of the shower," Rockett continued.

"Nope, I just walk around the whole place," Hudson said, proudly puffing out his chest. He's not the chiseled physical specimen of Bryce Treggs, and he doesn't have the sinewy cut of a Kenny Lawler. He's just Ray -- hairy, dirty and happy.


When Goff officially declared for the NFL Draft, Hudson -- who knew Goff's decision weeks ahead of time -- texted his former roommate.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay? You still haven't thrown me a touchdown," he said. One of the more veteran receivers in a group of pass catchers that lost its top six most productive members to NFL camps after last season, Hudson still does not have a single career touchdown. His 264 yards receiving on 18 catches rank second and third, respectively, among active Cal players.

"That's fine," he said. "Like I told Jared, I saved it for an international one. I really want an international one."

To facilitate that, he let quarterback Davis Webb beat him in golf. He was winning the front nine at Tilden Park "by a considerable amount," but, wryly smiled, said that Webb hustled him at the turn. "His last two holes, the best two drives I've seen from anybody. I definitely got hustled. I'm still mad about it."

Not too mad, though, to hold a grudge. He can't very well go 0-for-the-career.

Hudson traveling to Australia this week has the flavor of The Clampetts Go to Maui. He's been to several countries, but never Down Under, where his parents will meet him this week. They left the second week of August, and will wind up in Sydney.

"It'll be an inconvenient stop to watch a game, and then go back on their trip," Hudson laughed. 

With his grizzled, open face, a dry wit and a disarmingly self-deprecatory sense of humor, spiced with a dash of self-aware ironic bravado, Hudson seems to constantly be laughing at a joke that only he gets.

He was a two-offer barely-rated tight end who wound up the best friend and consigliere of the No. 1 overall draft pick, a former baseball player who eschewed his uncle's pastime to put his hand in the dirt and block. He considers his time at Cal with thoughtful bemusement.

"I know, personally, I've learned through all of my experiences," he said. "I was here through one of the worst seasons in Cal history, and I was here through a little bit of rebuilding, but nowhere close to where we wanted to be, the season after that. I've seen and been a part of so many things, and a lot of us have, even some of the young guys have. The guys that were on the field failing, we got to learn by their examples. They would sit down and say, 'You don't want to be where we were, in a year.' We learned from Day One how to work hard. It was something that I know a lot of guys were missing, and with those years, they weren't pushing as hard as you need to. They weren't separating themselves, as a team, from other teams, and you saw it on Saturdays."

From that 1-11 season, to a 5-7 2014, to an 8-5 mark in 2015, when the Bears soundly beat Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, Hudson has seen his fair share of change, and he's remained, as Peeler said, consistent.

"After the [Armed Forces Bowl] game, I pulled him to the side right when we got back, and I said, 'You've got to be that leader in our room,' and he's taken that role and ran with it," Peeler said. "He's a voice that guys listen to. They look up to him, and I'm proud of him. It's fun to watch a young kid come in at 17-years old, and watch how he's grown. I'm excited about this year. I think he'll have a huge role for us."

***** In July, during two media day appearances, Dykes wasted nary an opportunity to praise the group of players that comprise the 2016 Bears.

"In 22 years of coaching, this may be the best collection of young people that I've ever been around," he said. "Their work ethic, their unselfishness, just the way they go about their business every day, is a real tribute to them. I have the great pleasure of working with them every day. It's really pretty awesome to show up to work every day and be around young people that you enjoy being around. It makes my job fun. I drive to work every day with a smile on my face, because I get to be around people I love being around. It makes my job fun and easy."

The unselfishness, the work ethic, the hard-hat mentality, those are all Hudson. But, implicit in those words was also a comparison to the group Dykes found when he first arrived in Berkeley.

"When I first got there, there weren't a lot of good dudes," said right tackle Steven Moore. "Now, there are a lot of great dudes."

"It was getting rid of that individual mentality," Hudson said. "Once we got rid of that, we definitely came together as a team. You could tell, in summer. We were killing workouts and runs that you struggled with. They're hard runs. You have to come together. You can't do it by yourself. You're going to be tired, you're going to have someone next to you that is going to pick you up. This year was extremely different than other years. You have all these guys that are willing to step up, are willing to help out. It doesn't matter if you're an offensive player or a defensive player; we're all one team at the end of the day."

Hudson earned the Most Inspirational Player award at Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill for the 2010-11 season. What did he do to be so inspirational? "I was a post player, but I was the guy inside who fouled [...] a lot," Hudson said. "Somehow, I couldn't transition football to basketball. I would bring the football into it. I loved taking charges ... I was the nitty-gritty player who had no idea how basketball was played."

The goofy ease Hudson effuses hides an intensity. As quick as he is with a prank or a laugh, he's even quicker to carry the banner for his teammates.

"Our biggest thing this offseason was, it's not about the individual; it's about the group, it's about the team, it's about the person next to you," said Hudson. "It's not about the name on the back; it's about the name on the front. We're known as Cal, not as individuals."

Last season, when the Bears traveled to Washington, fresh off of a dramatic 45-44 win over Texas, there was already some bad blood with the Huskies. A 31-7 loss the season before, powered by a 100-yard fumble return by local product Shaq Thompson left a bitter taste in Cal's mouth. When the Bears' team busses showed up at Husky Stadium, they were met by Washington's caravan. 

"The year before, we got destroyed, blown out," Hudson said. "We knew we wanted that game. They killed us at home and it was demoralizing. We all knew it. We had a purpose. We went up to Washington, and when we both got off the busses at the same time, we all wanted to have that one. We're all walking by each other, which doesn't happen. You usually have separate tunnels, but we were at the same time, walking by each other. You never want to put two teams next to each other before a game, when they're all ready for war. You've got stare-downs. Everybody was ready to go."

Did things get physical?

"It's football," Hudson smiled. "There was lookage. It made it a little more interesting. A little talk, here and there. Just setting up the game, making it a little more interesting." Five turnovers, five sacks and a Goff first-down sprint later, the Bears came away with a 30-24 win.

"It was just something about being a part of that locker room, the things that were said, the unity around everybody, the plane ride, you don't ever get a chance to experience that," Hudson said. "I witnessed it once, and it was the first time Jared and I came to the UCLA-Cal game in 2012. It was a night game. We went down to the locker room right after the game, with all of the players, and we witnessed that. After that, I knew I was coming to Cal.

"We didn't have that as much, right when we got there. We didn't have that opportunity. When you have a game like Washington, where you're battling, all game long, people are hurt, people are fighting through injuries, and you come in the locker room after that and it's all paid off. It was surreal, seeing everyone coming together as a team, jumping up and down, doing 'Bear Territory!' That's been one of the best memories I've had -- that's what Cal's all about."


As much of a prankster as Hudson can be, it's only a small piece of what makes Ray, well, Ray. 

"Ray's real smart, a real smart player," said Rockett. "A lot of the time, he's coaching up the young guys, the freshmen. Peeler's always asking questions, and he's on top of things."

"I have several roles this year," Hudson said. "Last year, I was a slot receiver, but this year, I'm doing a lot more, and I'll definitely have more catches."

With Stephen Anderson and Darius Powe gone, it's up to Hudson to be a leader, on the field and off. "He has a unique skill set," said Dykes. "He's got great size, has really, really good hands, has been a consistent player for us, has done a lot of different things for us, both special teams [and offense] because of his body type and his athleticism. I'm really excited about what he brings to the table. I think he's going to have a big year. We lost a lot of receivers who have experience. Ray's probably as experienced as anybody that we've got, in terms of our wide receivers. I think he'll be the leader of the group."

He's become an additional coach for the inside receivers, someone upon who Peeler relies heavily.

"He's become a film junkie," Peeler said. "He comes in and watches film on his own, especially in the summer. We're not allowed to do anything on the field, but he was a guy that led that group, got them going in the right direction, as far as being a coach on the field. That's the thing I see. When he sees something, he drives guys, and he really starts coaching them up."

Like his father and grandfather before him, Hudson just grabs his wrench, and gets to work.

"I'll be like, 'Ray, I'm going to the next play; coach up this guy,' and it might as well be my voice," Peeler said. "That's something that I've really enjoyed watching, him becoming that guy, because Stephen was that guy the last couple years. It was fun to see him take that."

Can Hudson be what Anderson is -- a sleeper who emerges in an NFL camp?

"I hope so, at some point," Peeler said.

He's certainly on his way.

"The first day I was hired here, I saw this guy in the weight room. He was up here by himself, and that was Stephen," Peeler said. "That's the same thing that Ray has seen, taken in. Stephen always gave you consistency, and that's what I've found with Ray. Every single day, he's got to be consistent, and he has."

He's been dependable, but not flashy. He may not have the road-hugging handling or the German-tuned performance engine, but he's got four wheels, a lot of torque, and he doesn't break down. He's an old truck that has a lot more under the hood than you expect.

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