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BERKELEY -- If Cal wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins keeps this up, keeps returning kickoffs for touchdowns and catching everything thrown his way, the way he did Saturday against Louisiana Tech, he's going to blow his cover. Hawkins calls himself the "the big jokester" on the team but just a supporting cast member in Heisman Trophy hopeful DeSean Jackson's offensive show. To Hawkins, Jackson is "the man," and that's exactly the way he likes it. Consider his reaction last week when someone reminded Hawkins that he's Cal's leader in catches and receiving yards. "That's a great thing, but I don't want to take all that pressure," Hawkins said, laughing. "Give it to DeSean." Well, the big jokester grabbed seven passes for 87 yards -- both team highs -- in Cal's 42-12 victory over Louisiana Tech. So now his team-leading season totals are 19 catches for 220 yards. Hawkins also returned the opening kickoff Saturday 90 yards for a touchdown, using his blazing speed to energize Cal's fans and his teammates. No Bear had returned the opening kick for a touchdown since 1996 when Deltha O'Neal returned one 100 yards against Navy in the Aloha Bowl. "It's what we needed," Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said. "We needed a spark like that. "I actually called it. I've been telling "Hawk" he's due for one." Hawkins used a little trickery to burn the Bulldogs on the opening kick. Angling left to right, Hawkins faked a handoff to Brandon Hampton, running the other direction.
"They bit hard," Hawkins said. "I saw three guys to beat. My guys cleared it out. All I had to do was run." One Bulldog had an angle on Hawkins, but he turned on the jets. Funny thing about fear. It makes you run faster. "I was thinking, 'I better not get caught. If I get caught I'm going to hear about it all week,' " Hawkins said. Hawkins often gets overshadowed by Jackson and some of Cal's other big names on offense. But he can put his resume up against the best of the Bears. Coming out of Stockton's Edison High School, Hawkins was one of the most coveted recruits in the nation. He totaled over 1,800 yards combined rushing and receiving as a senior, earning Parade All-American honors. LSU, coming off a national championship under Nick Saban, won the recruiting battle for Hawkins in 2004. But Hawkins' career at LSU lasted all of one game. He left the Tigers, returned to Northern California and enrolled at City College of San Francisco, where he starred for one season. Next stop Cal. He caught just 18 passes his first season as a Bear but 46 last year, a number he's on pace to crush.
"I was just young," Hawkins said of his decision to leave LSU. "I kind of got homesick a little. LSU's a great school. I really enjoyed myself when I was there." First-year Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley was an assistant on Saban's LSU team when Hawkins arrived. Hawkins talked to him Friday then again after Saturday's game. "I went to him first," Hawkins said. "I gave him a big hug." Cal quarterback Nate Longshore might want to give Hawkins a few hugs. Hawkins has become Longshore's security blanket of sorts, working the middle of the field and finding open areas. With Jackson struggling Saturday, in part because of a sprained left thumb, Longshore often turned to Hawkins. "Those guys worked very hard together throughout the summer," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said of Hawkins and Longshore. "I think Nate has a lot of confidence in him." At times when Longshore called Hawkins during the summer and asked him to run routes, he'd initially balk.
"I'd say, 'No. I'm tired,' " Hawkins said. "He'd always get me out there." Actually, Hawkins always convinced himself. "It popped into my head, 'Do you want to be good or do you want to be great?' " he said.
We know his answer. Hawkins' 12-yard catch over the middle on second-and-10 from the Bulldogs' 25 was the longest play on Cal's first touchdown drive. On Cal's first touchdown drive of the second half, Hawkins caught a 7-yard pass -- where else but over the middle -- then drew a pass interference penalty on a third down pass, also over the middle. "I just feel like I can get open," Hawkins said. "I don't mind going over the middle. "I talk to Nate every chance I get. I tell him, 'Nate, if you're in trouble, look for me. I'm open. I've got you.' " Of course Hawkins believes he can get open on every play. If he's not careful, the rest of Pac-10 will believe it, too.