Friday, August 12, 2005

It's a long road back for Cal's Kelly

Contra Costa Times

• Freshman tight end Morrah not practicing because eligibility is in question
Cal football notebook
BERKELEY -- Former Monte Vista High School star Steve Kelly had turned into Cal's Cinderella Man last season, going from backup, converted linebacker to starting defensive end in a flash. The fall came even faster.
As the 3-0 Bears practiced for their titanic matchup against USC, Kelly tore the ACL in his left leg. He tried to play in two games later in the season but tore the meniscus in his left knee in the process and had surgery. "It was pretty demoralizing," said Kelly, now a junior, "and I withdrew a little. I was trying to get back into the swing of things, but I felt like I didn't belong. It was fun to see everyone succeed, but I wanted to contribute."
By the time summer began, Kelly was ready to begin a full training regimen, but he rolled an ankle, an injury that set his training back another three weeks. So he definitely feels he has some catching up to do. "It's weird," he said after practice Wednesday. "I feel faster, and that's probably because I am 10 pounds lighter. But I have to try to put the weight back on. My legs aren't quite as built as they were last year. But I usually do gain weight during camp, probably because I don't miss any meals."
A prominent part of the defense last year, Kelly (six tackles, a sack and an interception in 2004) is just another body at this point. He has to prove to defensive line coach Ken Delgado that he has returned to form. "I need to prove that to myself first," he said. "I wouldn't put myself into a game if I couldn't perform. And I would say we are more athletic at defensive end now."
Cal might be more athletic, but both defensive end positions appear to be wide open. Senior Tosh Lupoi, a starter at the position in 2003, has returned after missing last season due to a fractured foot. Junior college transfer Nu'u Tafisi was impressive in spring drills, and sophomore Philip Mbakogu has tremendous athleticism and potential. Kelly also pointed out that sophomore John Allen made his mark during spring drills and junior Fahim Mujaahid Abd Allah, who came to Cal known as Justin Johnson, made significant strides during a redshirt season.
So it will be hard for Kelly to work his way back into a starting role. "I have to show the coaches I have the desire and the health," he said. "I have to show I can contribute."
Morrah held out
Freshman tight end Cameron Morrah, a PrepStar All-American from Claremont High School, is being held out of practice while the NCAA examines his eligibility. Although just a freshman, the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has a chance to contribute this season. Coach Jeff Tedford said he had no idea how long Morrah would be held out.
Miller time
Junior defensive end Jason Miller has rejoined the team as a walk-on. Miller was a 6-5, 210-pound scholarship athlete out of Beverly Hills in 2002, but Tedford eventually dropped him from the squad.
"I told him to go to a junior college to prove he could get it done academically," Tedford said. "So he went to El Camino and got it done."
Now Miller, who has added about 50 pounds, has returned to prove he can get it done both academically and athletically. Tedford said, "We'll see."
Smith impressive
Cal sophomore wide receiver Noah Smith continues to shine during practice. That's important since two of Cal's marquee recruits, junior college transfer Lavelle Hawkins and freshman DeSean Jackson, are both wide receivers.
"Noah has done a great job," Tedford said. "He knows all his assignments now."
Smith caught two touchdown passes during Cal's spring game, and that might have motivated him to work hard in the summer. "That might have given him some confidence," Tedford said. "He looks much more comfortable now."
Extra point
Tedford said he will have a tough time deciding which freshmen to redshirt this season. "We have more freshmen who we will have to consider playing," Tedford said. "This is a talented group."

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