By Jim Trotter
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
April 16, 2005
Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a chance to be the first player selected in next weekend's NFL draft. He's among four finalists on the San Francisco 49ers' list of candidates, and a handful of prominent mock drafts have him going No. 1.
Talk about surreal.
Three years ago Rodgers considered giving up football. Despite throwing for more than 4,400 yards over two winning seasons at Pleasant Valley High in Chico, he failed to get a sniff from major college recruiters. He sent cover letters and game tapes to a handful of schools, but there were no takers. San Diego State showed interest but stopped calling after coach Ted Tollner and his staff were fired. Disappointed and frustrated, Rodgers contemplated taking the air out of his football and packing away his cleats. He couldn't understand the cold shoulder.
His father eventually interested him in playing at Butte Community College in nearby Oroville, where Rodgers threw for 28 touchdowns and led the Roadrunners to a 10-1 record and No. 2 national ranking as a freshman. But his reward for another strong season was more obscurity.
And more questions about the lack of attention.
Turns out, someone was watching him . . . if only by accident. While scouting Butte tight end Garrett Cross on tape, Cal coach Jeff Tedford kept noticing the stature and accuracy of the quarterback. When the season ended, he drove down to Oroville, worked out Rodgers and offered him a scholarship on the spot. The rest of the story belongs on an after-school special.
Rodgers assumed the starting job five games into his first season with the Golden Bears and threw for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns (five interceptions). He followed that by passing for 2,566 yards and 24 scores (eight picks) last year as a junior.
"I think my numbers speak for themselves," said Rodgers, who passed up his senior season to enter the draft. "I think I did something that not a lot of people expected me to do: I came in from a JC and comprehended his offense in one year and mastered it in two years."
Perhaps, but some scouts and coaches have questions about his ability to be an elite performer on the pro level. Since 1993, Tedford has coached five quarterbacks who were drafted high in the first round – Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, David Carr and Kyle Boller – and none has had the same impact in the NFL that he had in college.
"You have to ask yourself, 'Is Rodgers that good or is he a product of the system?' " said one NFL quarterbacks coach, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "You have to worry about that with him. It's like with Steve Spurrier (the former Florida coach who regularly had wide receivers drafted in the first round). Few, if any, of those guys ever lived up to expectation. They'll get you a nice down payment on a house, but they ain't necessarily going to pay the mortgage."
Rodgers shrugs off questions about the so-called Tedford factor.
"I'm not any of those guys," he said of Tedford's previous pupils. "I'm a different guy, so I'm not too worried about that."