BY Vincent Tannura
As the Cal football team began its second week of spring practice Monday, many key positions—quarterback, tailback, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line—appeared to be set. One of the most glaring uncertainties that has emerged thus far is the hole at cornerback after the departure of All-American and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Daymeion Hughes. Coach Jeff Tedford, however, seems unfazed by the daunting task of replacing one of his biggest playmakers on defense from the past two seasons. “I feel good about it because our guys are so gifted,” Tedford said. “It’s definitely not a panic situation. We probably have more depth at corner than we’ve ever had.”
Despite the confident words of the head coach, the fact remains that Hughes posted 72 tackles and eight interceptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns in 2006—all contributions which will have to be accounted for by some other member of the secondary. All-Pac-10 Freshman Syd’Quan Thompson appears to have a strong grasp on one of the starting cornerback spots, and should help fill the void left by his former teammate. At this early juncture, there appear to be three frontrunners for the remaining cornerback slot. Charles Amadi, Darian Hagan and Brandon Jones, all redshirt freshmen, will vie for a shot at a starting job during the spring. Amadi hails from Fresno and attended Edison High School, the alma mater of fellow Cal defensive backs Robert Peele and Bernard Hicks. He is just about as intelligent a player as they come, but he is currently nursing an ankle injury, which could hurt his chances of winning the early favor of the coaching staff.
“I need to improve my reaction time because I hesitate a lot looking for the double pump,” Amadi said. “But I’d say my main strength is my mental toughness. I’m battling through a right ankle injury right now, through fatigue, all of it.” While Amadi considers his mental fortitude to be his best asset, Hagan sees his future contribution deriving from his attitude on the gridiron. A self-prescribed ball-hog, Hagan was a standout receiver at Los Angeles’ Crenshaw High School, the same alma mater as Hughes. “My strength is that I see the ball in the air and feel as if I’m the receiver,” Hagan said. “I look at it as a continuation. (Hughes) did it on the high school level, I did it on the high school level. He did it here, now it’s my turn to do it here.” Jones, the final candidate for the job, is originally from Seattle, having attended O’Dea High School. Jones is the son of former NFL fullback Lyndall Jones, and his lifelong exposure to the game has informed him of the importance of a worthy secondary. “I’m always one to say I can improve on everything. The spring practice is letting me know what I need to work on,” Jones said. “We’ve got big shoes to fill, and it’s important because our corners need to be respected by other teams.” The three young hopefuls have been rotated in and out with the starting group since the beginning of spring practice, with the coaches trying to distribute reps equally in order to evaluate each individual player.
All three players agree that the competition will be beneficial not only to themselves, but also to the team. “We don’t take the competition too seriously. Football is fun, and there is not animosity between the DB’s,” Amadi said. “We all just want the best player to be out on the field.”