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Just seven months out of high school, Cameron Morrah was playing under the lights. He leaped higher than two veteran Division I-A safeties and made a one-handed touchdown catch. You didn't see the play re-run time and again on highlight shows. Probably, because it was in a 2005 practice. "I can make all the plays in practice, but no one sees it, so it doesn't mean anything," said Morrah, a sophomore tight end at Cal. "I feel like I haven't really played in a meaningful way since high school." That all changed Saturday, when Morrah caught three passes for 27 yards in the Bears' 45-31 win over Tennessee. Maybe more importantly, he was in the lineup during running plays, too. "He's a guy who has really improved with his blocking skills, so now he can stay in there," coach Jeff Tedford said. "He doesn't make the mental mistakes any more. It's a maturity level to understand what it takes to play that position." Tedford called tight end the second-most-demanding position to quarterback on the offense, and Morrah has grappled with each of the demands. The 6-foot-4, 248-pounder played receiver in high school and, in many ways, still sees himself in that role.
To a man, Cal players have a favorite practice highlight of Morrah, who consistently sparkled during the last two training camps with one-handed grabs and routes that a player of his size isn't expected to be able to run. At Cal, however, he's been asked to show the same pride in pass protection and run blocking that he does in his pass-catching abilities.
"I finally put in the work to get on the field," said Morrah, who added about five pounds of muscle. "In the past, I felt like I was working in the offseason, but I didn't realize what it really takes. Now, I'm dedicated to football." He started two of the first three games last year, but by midseason, he wasn't playing at all. He didn't play a single snap against Washington State, Washington or Arizona, and his lone stat for the year was a 3-yard touchdown catch against Portland State. "I don't feel comfortable being really big right now, so it's become a battle in my mind," he said. "I've always thought of myself as a receiver first, but if I want to play, I've got to be committed to going down in the trenches, too."
Apparently, he has arrived. "It was really encouraging to see him competing on running plays on the Tennessee tape," tight ends coach Pete Alamar said. "He was taking pride in it, and he's learned the importance of it. "You're just starting to see Cameron Morrah emerge. He's just scratching the surface."
This could be a breakout week as No. 10 Cal (1-0) prepares to play Colorado State in Fort Collins. In their 31-28 overtime loss to Colorado on Saturday, the Rams (0-1) consistently had breakdowns over the middle, which is where Morrah could make his living. "He stood out the first time we ever threw the ball to him as a true freshman," Alamar said. "When we saw him on film and recruited him, we thought he a chance to be really special. That stuff showed up pretty quickly once he got here." Morrah was a PrepStar All-America selection as a defensive end, and he was rated as the No. 13 end in the nation by recruiting service Rivals.com. But despite showing great hands, he ran only a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, so high school coach Rome Douglas, who lettered at USC from 1996-98, told him to a new position. "He told me I had to play tight end," Morrah said. "He said, 'That's where all the money is going to be. Just watch. Just watch.' " Now, Douglas can finally watch Morrah.
Briefly: Eric Morrah, a senior linebacker and a brother of Cameron, left the program to pursue a baseball career. He plans to try out for Cal's team. ... Receiver Daniel Lofton, a redshirt freshman and son of Hall of Famer James, transferred to Hawaii. He'll sit out this season in accordance with NCAA rules and have three years to use three seasons of eligibility. ... Highlights of the Cal-Tennessee game have been added to the1towatch.com, the Web site promoting DeSean Jackson's Heisman Trophy campaign.