The One to Watch
BY Gerald Nicdao
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Walking through the bowels of Memorial Stadium, on his way towards an interview with CSTV.com, Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson was holding a cup with the unmistakable face of Colonel Sanders imprinted on it. Yes, the same Colonel Sanders who is the iconic face of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even a Heisman Trophy candidate needs to eat his KFC. “I try to eat as good as possible,” Jackson says with a smile. “I’m a skinny dude so I need to eat some better diets. But I need my potatoes and chicken just so I can gain some weight.” But what the versatile junior starling of the Bears football team eats doesn’t matter too much. It’s what he’s done on the field that has led to the preseason hype. Last year, Jackson broke Pac-10 and school records with his four punt returns for touchdowns. He also led Cal in receiving and catches the last two years. Those are all the reasons why Jackson has been rated as the No. 1 wide receiver in the country by The Sporting News and Rivals.com heading into the 2007 campaign and why he’s gaining attention for the Heisman Trophy.
“He had a great year statistically last season in terms of punt returns and the amount of yardage that he had,” says Dan Ferrigno, the Bears’ wide recievers coach. “Those were some pretty impressive stats when you compare them nationally. That’s why he’s being considered.” But what does Jackson think about all the hype? “It’s good. It keeps me working hard,” he says. And of course the hype is just one aspect of being in contention for the Heisman. Nowadays, a college football player needs some preseason publicity to start his campaign off in the right direction, and in Jackson’s case, that includes a Web site: www.the1towatch.com. “You have to get the guy’s name out there, so that people can start talking about him,” Ferrigno says. “It seems now that it has started earlier than it ever has. It’s really hard to win any type of award if you haven’t been mentioned at this point.” Even with all the Heisman hype, Jackson says that his focus, as well as his team’s focus, is on the Bears’ season-opening rematch with Tennessee, which will be on Sept. 1 at Memorial Stadium. In last year’s game, the Volunteers handed Cal a 35-18 defeat in Knoxville, Tenn. “Coming into camp, everyone has to work hard so we can get Tennessee,” says Jackson. “That’s our big focus right now.
“It’s given us a lot to think about since last season. It was a frustrating loss. I’ve just been trying to work hard while getting ready for camp just to get that nasty taste out of my mouth from Tennessee.” Jackson also knows of the importance of playing well against Volunteers in his hopes for gaining attention for the Heisman. Last year’s Heisman contender for the Cal, running back Marshawn Lynch, had a relatively quiet game, rushing for 76 yards and catching five passes for 22 yards. More importantly, though, Lynch was held out of the endzone. “That is a big game for me,” says Jackson. “Everyone is going to be watching. All the voters will be watching. But I’m going to try to be a team player and hopefully we can come out on top.” History seems to be against Jackson, as only two wide receivers have ever won the Heisman. Former Oakland Raiders wideout Tim Brown snagged the trophy for Notre Dame in 1987 and Desmond Howard—who was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXXI—won the award for Michigan in 1991. Also, as a receiver, Jackson is at the mercy of his quarterback’s passes. That’s why Jackson says he thinks that it’s critical that he’s able to do something when returning punts.
“You have to bring something different,” says Jackson. “I’m a receiver, but I also do punt returns. I have to try to take as many punt returns as I can to the endzone and score as many touchdowns as I can.” It’s not that hard to see that Jackson has found inspiration in Howard winning the Heisman. Standing at six feet tall and weighing just 172 pounds, Jackson is just as small as Howard was when he won the Heisman. Howard himself was a mere 5-foot-10 and weighed 170 back in 1991. “Desmond Howard was definitely my idol growing up, watching him play at Michigan and doing the Heisman pose,” says Jackson. “He was a little guy just like me when he won the Heisman. It gives me hope that I can go out there and win it too.” And like Howard, Jackson has the ability to find the end zone. In his first two years at Cal, Jackson has scored 21 touchdowns.
“The thing about DeSean is that he can create and make plays anytime he touches the ball, which is why he’s so exciting,” says Ferrigno. Along with his lack of size and his position, another obstacle standing in Jackson’s way is Cal’s history as a program. No player in the Bears’ history has taken home the Heisman. “To do something different that no other Cal player has ever done before, to get that award would be really special to me,” says Jackson. But even more special, for Jackson, would be to help his team win a championship, whether it be a conference crown or the national title. And if that happens, then maybe Jackson will get consideration for quite possibly the most coveted award in college football. “What I’m focused on right now is winning a championship for my team,” says Jackson. “Then maybe I would have the opportunity to win the Heisman. It would be great if I could do both.”