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Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Oakland Tribune: Walk-on helped Cal walk off with victory
By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER
BERKELEY — Sometimes it takes a walk-on, and a slow-footed one at that, to show the scholarship players the way. That was the case at Cal on Saturday night when LaReylle Cunningham, a redshirt freshman and a non-scholarship wide receiver, ignited the Golden Bears' 42-38 victory over WashingtonState. "Out of all our receivers, I'm probably the slowest one," Cunningham said Monday. He was fast enough on a 57-yard touchdown reception from Joe Ayoob that cut the Cougars' lead to 38-35 with 5:19 remaining. Ayoob's 9-yard strike to Lavelle Hawkins then won it for Cal with 1:50 left. Cunningham finished with five catches for 112 yards and the one score. "What makes a good receiver is a smart receiver," Cunningham said. "Know your defensive back. Know when to get him to turn his hips, know when to accelerate, know how to catch the ball." Until Saturday, Cunningham hadn't caught a pass at Cal. "Being a walk-on, I knew I was going to wait my turn, and (he had) to show the coaches in practice what I could do," he said. "I was holding tight, waiting for an opportunity like this to come. And it came." He contends he wasn't even nervous before his big chance. "I've been playing football all my life. This comes natural to me. I was just out there doing what I do," he said. "My mom (Adrienne Cunningham) always told me just to be patient, that my time would come. My mom's my best friend, so I just listen to her, and things happen." So why did the 6-2, 190-pound Cunningham walk on at Cal? Well, he didn't receive one scholarship offer while at VandenHigh School in Fairfield. Part of it was his playing in only five games as a senior because of an ankle injury. The other part was his speed.
Cal receivers coach Eric Kiesau said Cunningham runs a 4.8, 4.9 40-yard dash. Most linebackers are faster. Some linemen are just as fast. "The most important thing is separation," Kiesau said. "I told LaReylle a ton of times, 'You don't have to be the fastest guy to be the best receiver.' Even Jerry Rice, the best ever, isn't a burner. Guys who separate from the DB, and have body control, are the best receivers." Some receivers become faster when someone's chasing them. "LaReylle finds a way to cover the ground," said Vanden athletic director Kevin Luckey. "Saturday night, I was going 'wow.' He had a chance to show what he could do. Being a walk-on isn't an easy thing. "What stands out about LaReylle is he's a balanced human being. He's always been personable, respectful, and a good citizen. He always says 'hi' with a smile. He's interested in what I'm doing. He's mature." Cunningham played football and basketball at Vanden. His football position coach, LeVon Haynes, now is Vanden's head coach. "He's not the fastest kid, but he has great hands, and he's a big-play receiver," Haynes said. "I wasn't surprised Saturday. I've always thought he could do this. He has great character. I'm proud of him." Cunningham played Saturday because starting wideouts Robert Jordan and DeSean Jackson were sidelined with injuries. So is he now part of Cal's receiving mix? "Good people do it once, great people do it twice, and excellent people do it all the time," Cunningham said. "Whenever the coaches need me, I'll be there." "The reason LaReylle did well Saturday was because of the way he prepared himself all last year," Kiesau said. "He was as detailed as the starters. He primed himself perfect."