Cal's star back tries to set good example on and off the field
By Dave Newhouse
Marshawn Lynch BERKELEY — Marshawn Lynch is a special talent. How special? Cal's junior tailback leads all Pac-10 Conference rushers even with two sprained ankles that produce pain with every gain. othing seems to stop Lynch, who has a 109.8-yard rushing average. He scored the winning touchdown in overtime against Washington two weeks ago, then took a spontaneous spin around Memorial Stadium in an equipment cart. Lynch is Cal's signature player and its workhorse. Just tape him up and let the big horse feed. He scored twice more last Saturday as Cal improved to 8-1 and No. 8 in the BCS standings with a 38-24 victory over UCLA. Lynch, a 5-11, 227-pounder from Oakland Tech High, is more expressive on the field than off. He's generally reluctant to reveal his innermost thoughts, but he became more of an open book in a recent interview.
Q. What's the biggest change in you since coming to Cal?
A. I just look at life more critical. Things I didn't pay much attention to before I got here, I've opened my eyes to, like a whole another side of the world.
Q. Anything specific?
A. Mainly being a young black athlete. A lot of the classes here deal with race and gender. Just knowing where I'm from, there's not a lot of people at Cal that came from the same background.Q. Have you grown from this disparity?
A. Yeah, just being aware and knowledgeable of those things. When I was taking the SATs, I was sitting next to somebody who had SAT prep courses — one-on-one tutoring to get ready. And all that played a factor into getting (that somebody) into school. So it's just looking at life more critical.
Q. Could you describe your personality in 25 words or less?
A. I could do that in one word: Chillin'.
Q. What exactly is chillin'?
A. Just basically being around people like my family and my friends, people that I'm real connected to. Kinda just chopping it up, talking, just posted. Posted?
Q. When are you the most serious?
A. Probably when I'm talking to my little brother Devonte, or "Boo Boo." He's young (13), and I've been through a lot of what he's going through right now. Kind of guide him in the right direction.
Q. When are you the most playful?
A. Probably on the field.
Q. After your first Big Game, you said you were laughing inside your helmet as you ran with the ball. Is that what you mean by playful?
A. Most of the time, I'm playful. Other than that, I just kick back.
Q. How can you lead the conference in rushing this way?
A. I don't know, man. It's just been that way ever since I started playing football.
Q. Is it difficult on campus, dispelling the notion that you're just a jock?
A. Yeah, but I try to get away from that. If you've ever seen me outside the stadium, and you didn't know who I was, you probably wouldn't think too much of me. You never see me dressed up in my Cal sweats. I always have on street clothes, trying to blend in but just being me, being comfortable with what (clothing) I'm in.
Q. Do you try to converse with non-student athletes?
A. Yeah. People would probably think that because I play football, and I'm all over everything (publicity wise), that I would be hard to approach. After people have a conversation with me, it's "Ah, he's cool. I wasn't expecting him to be like that." But I'm just me. Solid.
Q. Do you have hobbies, say, going to the movies or reading?
A. I like going out to the movies sometimes. I like comedy movies, some Katt Williams movies, like "Friday After Next." I only read for school.
Q. Are you a ladies' man?
A. Nah, I wouldn't say I'm a ladies' man.
Q. How do you recover from a game?
A. Most of the time, a lot of the team will go out. But my grandma gives me Epsom salt after every game. I get in that (bath), then I be posted in the house, chillin' right there on the couch.
Q. Are you having enough of a good time?
A. I get out. I do my thing, man. But after a game, I'm tired.
Q. Driving the equipment cart, what brought that about?
A. I don't know. I was excited, man. In Oakland, we like to express ourselves in a lot of different ways, and one way is driving.
Q. If people really got to know you, what would they learn?
A. They would know I was goofy, they would know that I can be real shy at times, and they would know I'm all about my family. Family first.
Q. Do the injuries bother you? You've had your share at Cal.
A. I've thought about that, but if it's not an injury that stops me from playing, then I'm going to play with it.
Q. What's the hardest part of playing on bad ankles?
A. The most difficult thing is when I get into (open) space, when I go to make a move, sometimes my ankles won't allow it.
Q. When you can't play, you love watching backups such as Justin Forsett do well in your place. Why is that?
A. That's just the person I am. I've never been a hater, man.
Q. Peyton Manning and Matt Leinart came back for their senior seasons. Would you?
A. (Laughter) I'd rather not talk about that.
Q. Do you think Cal has reached a level as a top-10 team where it can win big games consistently, in the manner of Ohio State and Michigan?
A. Yeah, I do, man. That's my team.
Q. If it somehow worked out, and this is a stretch, that Cal met Tennessee in a bowl game, how would the Bears do in a rematch of Sept. 2?
A. (Laughter) It would be a great game.