Both would like to forget loss at Tennessee
The overwhelming theme being spewed from Cal camp this week is "redemption," and for two Bears, it isn't merely a company line. Saturday's game against Tennessee is a chance for Syd'Quan Thompson and Craig Stevens to erase the ugly memories of last season's 35-18 loss in Knoxville, Tenn. Receiver Robert Meachem got the best of Thompson, and Stevens was knocked out on the opening kick. "That game has become the motivation point for the duration of Syd's career," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "To his credit, he was never tentative. He never got down or timid. He's a competitor." Playing in his first collegiate game with a cast on one hand and 108,000 people cheering against him, Thompson was beat for a 41-yard reception on Tennessee's first play from scrimmage and later missed two tackles that freed Meachem for 42-yard and 80-yard touchdowns. "Going into the Tennessee game last year, I didn't have any worries about how Syd was going to perform," linebacker Anthony Felder said. "It was kind of a shock that he had the problems he did, but he's been working harder than anybody to get ready. He probably wants it more than any other individual on the field." Thompson responded from his inauspicious debut by finishing the season with 60 tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. He earned Freshman All-America honors. "I wouldn't take anything back," Thompson said. "I really needed that game. It really woke me up and showed me that I had to take my game to another level." Thompson now has the swagger of a No. 1 cornerback and says he wants opponents to throw his way. During drills, he'll cut in line to make sure he's going on 1-on-1 with explosive receiver DeSean Jackson.
"I read what everybody had to say after the Tennessee game, and it really motivated me to improve," he said. "It still motivates me when people bring up that game." And the thought of getting a second chance against the Volunteers was his motivation during the offseason. "Knowing this was the first game we were going to play really helped a lot, but I don't want to make this game too personal," he said. "We're really striving as a team more than setting individual goals. As a team, we want to come out better than we did last year." Such is the case for Stevens. His memories of last year's opener aren't as bad. He just doesn't have many memories at all. As he went to set up a wedge, he got hit in a blind spot and was knocked out. "I remember a few things," he said, "but it's really a blur." Stevens remembers the hit, remembers looking up at a doctor and remembers sitting on the bench. That's about it. "I wanted to watch the game, but it was halftime in a blink of an eye for me," he said "I was real confused."
So were his teammates. "That really got some guys out of their comfort zones," offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik said. "You could see guys thinking, 'If they can knock Craig out, oh man.' It certainly rattled everyone a little bit." Stevens is known as a tough guy on the team, famous for not missing practices or even sitting out reps. He wants to be part of every special-teams unit, but Coach Jeff Tedford said Stevens will not be part of the kick-return unit this season. "The opening kick last year was a train wreck," Tedford said. "There were a bunch of big, fast people running at each other. There were a lot of collisions out there. There was a lot of emotion and intensity." And it cost the Bears their all-conference tight end for the rest of the game. "Any time you lose your tight end on the first play of the game, it's bound to have an ill effect," Tedford said. "Craig is a great player. He's really good at the point of attack, he catches the ball well and he really understands the offense. It will be nice to have him this year."