By Grant Marek
For The Signal
Sitting before 65,938 breathless onlookers, Nate Longshore sat coolly enjoying Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon breeze as it tickled his now-exposed left foot. Heading into the depths of Berkeley's Memorial Stadium on a medical cart, with a green Gatorade bottle clenched in his left fist, a calm reassurance overcame Cal's quarterback. "I was hoping that they'd take me up there, tape it up and take me back out," Longshore says. Instead, his first collegiate football game - the 2005 season opener against Sacramento State - would end on crutches. "They told me pretty much right away," says the former Canyon High School signal-caller. "They felt it and said (the left fibula) was broken. It took them five minutes to do an X-ray. They showed me where I'd broken it and then they put a cast on it and gave me some medication. "I was devastated."
But for this 6-foot-5, 233-pound gunslinger, that devastation only lingered for a matter of minutes. "I said I wanted to go watch the rest of the game," he recalls. And he did, sporting crutches and a ball cap, the former All-American high school senior watched Cal roll to a 41-3 victory. The following day he had surgery and began his year-long rehabilitation. "As soon as the game was over, I immediately focused on getting back," Longshore says. As of today, Longshore is pretty much there. His leg is at 100 percent according to him and his coaches, and he's back at the helm as Cal's starting quarterback. "They expected there to be competition in the spring," says Golden Bears offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar. "But as far as I know, starters don't lose their position to injury."
Apparently, they don't lose their swagger either. Even with a scheduled starting quarterback who has next to no collegiate game experience, the Bears are being bombarded by preseason accolades. They're a top-10 team in most preseason polls and Longshore has even been listed as a Top-60 Heisman candidate by foxsports.com. "People have respect for Nate's talent," Dunbar says. "That's his goal - to be a successful quarterback - and he's doing everything to become that." But Longshore isn't about to accept the accolades - at least not until he earns them outright. "I'm more concerned with my teammates. I have to prove to them throughout the fall that I can make plays. I can't just be good enough to be the starter - I need their confidence," the 2004 Canyon graduate says. "More of (the preseason accolades) is my coaches. It's a tribute to them - not me.
"I'm just lucky I'm associated with it." While his modesty doesn't exactly translate into reality, it's well taken - especially by the Bears' new offensive mind. "The quarterback needs to play in the framework of the offense," Dunbar says. "He doesn't need to go out and be the hero and win every game with an amazing play." That philosophy ended up doing wonders for Dunbar and his former employer - Northwestern University. Dunbar, hired in February by Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, guided the Wildcats to the No. 4 offense in the country in 2005 as they amassed 500.3 yards of offense per game. They became just the second team in the history of the Big Ten to average 500 yards per game. Some pundits have argued that the less-mobile Longshore may not be suited for the spread offense elements that Dunbar will add to the Cal offense this season - and the Bears' new offensive coordinator refutes them whole-heartedly. "People have a common misnomer that you'll run the quarterback all over the place," he says. "I don't think that's true and I think Nate fits the elements very well.
"It's not like we're going to ask him to run like a tailback." Especially when they have a pair that rushed for over 2,000 yards last season, including Heisman contender Marshawn Lynch. "I'm perfectly content with throwing a swing pass to one of them and letting them go to work," Longshore says. "I just need to get the ball to them and let them make the play. I was blessed with teammates like this in high school too. "I always felt my job was pretty easy." But that's not to say he hasn't had to work to make it that way. The last guy off the practice field and the first one in the weight room, Longshore is addicted to his own work ethic. "It feels like I have to," he says. "A lot of guys are gifted and talented. With me, there's always something I have to work on. If I want to compete with these guys, it's what I have to do." It's this type of tireless workman-like mentality that made Longshore's recovery process all the more frustrating.
"It was really awkward. I could feel my body telling me to take it slow," he says. "You can't go in and do extra exercises to make your body heal faster. Your body doesn't work that way." But with the determination that earned him the starting nod at the onset of last season, Longshore beat out his injury and frustration too. "I can't even remember which leg it is anymore," he says. On September 2, his second stab at a season opener, Tennessee will be there to remind him. "Going from my first half against Sacramento State to the next play I'll take is against Tennessee at Tennessee" he says. "I'll be ready."