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By Joe Davidson
They look tough, talk tough, play tough. Syd Thompson and Worrell Williams even grew up tough -- proud of it -- in the hard-boiled neighborhood of Del Paso Heights, never too far from an auto repair shop or liquor store. But deep down, a soft spot has been exposed for the friends who are more like brothers spanning their Grant High School days to their Cal tour now. Forget the scowls and growls. That's window dressing to their soft souls. So say the two women who would know -- their mothers -- with an added disclaimer: Their lads are every bit mama's boys. "Oh, man, it's so true," said Williams, the Bears' bruising linebacker, laughing with Thompson, the sleek cornerback, after Sunday's practice in Berkeley. "Both of us, we love our moms to death." Said Thompson: "We're pretty much their pride and joy."
It's a mutual affection, to be sure. With the nurturing over the years have been some doses of tough love. It wasn't unusual to find Patty Thompson or Williams' mother, Sherri Kirk, on the Grant campus to monitor attendance and academic progress. And nothing quite humbles and brings a heat wave down the back of the Big Man on Campus when he strolls into class five minutes late to see dear ol' mom planted in his seat, arms crossed, eyes on fire. These days, the moms and a flock of friends and family trek to Cal games to root on their own. Cal has become a national story, with the Bears ranked No. 2 in the land. And lofty expectations and high rankings are nothing new for Thompson and Williams and their followers. Where they hail from, the Heights, there are two passions to live by: football and faith, touchdowns and church.
"Friday night football when they were in high school, Saturdays now with our boys in college, and then Sunday, the whole new order: Church," said Patty Thompson, Syd's mother. "It's always been like that in the community. It makes it unique and special." That their sons are so close to home comforts the mothers to no end. Once their baby, always their baby. When son Syd calls with a cough, mother Thompson asks if she needs to zip to Berkeley for some care. He'll say no, but his tone says yes. Kirk is sure that son Worrell is well fed, always. She grimaces when recalling her oldest wasn't just born. He was founded, nearly 12 pounds at birth. Thompson, delivered a year later, was a relative breeze, barely seven pounds. No cursing with that labor.
Williams and Thompson grew into prep All-Americans at Grant, do-everything talents who generated substantial recruiting interest. They still embrace their home community, returning home when they can to see relatives and stop by church and Grant High. Both are social welfare majors. Both want to give back to their communities. "I want to help kids," Syd Thompson said. "Kids from the neighborhood, our neighborhood, from low-income homes. I want to show that there's hope." "It's great to see them doing so well at Cal, and the kids here look up to them," Grant coach Mike Alberghini said. "When they graduate with those degrees, they'll be in good shape for the rest of their lives." Football runs in the family for Williams. His father, Derwin, played at Grant before his knees gave out, though he did play baseball for a spell at UC Davis. Williams' uncle, Channing Williams, is a Grant legend. Older brother D.J. was a national high school Player of the Year for De La Salle of Concord when the Spartans were setting prep records for winning streaks. D.J. nearly accepted a scholarship to Cal. The linebacker would have been the Bears' greatest recruiting coup in years, but he opted for Miami. He now plays for the Denver Broncos.
Worrell Williams nearly went to Miami but opted for Cal, a coup who didn't get away. Mother Kirk, for one, was relieved. She's the rowdy one with jersey No. 1 in the stands.
"I am so thrilled he's at Cal, so proud," she said. "I know he sees and feels me in the stands. I call him by his nickname -- 'Booley' -- and he'll look up at me as if to say, 'I feel your love, mom!' " Thompson took a recruiting trip to Oklahoma and gave the Sooners a hard look, partly because he has family there. But with Williams in his ear, pitching the merits of Cal, he became a Bear. He is Cal's top cornerback, a sophomore second-year starter and a burner at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. Williams is a ferocious hitter with excellent mobility at 6-2, 245 pounds, a junior second-year starter. Together, they are ready to seize a piece of Cal history, prominent in the Cal master plan of chasing Rose Bowls or more. Bears coach Jeff Tedford lights up when he talks about his Sacramento products, raving about their leadership, skills and potential, concluding that they "are excellent players."
On Saturday, the Bears host Oregon State. The moms will be there. Until then, there will be daily talks between sons and mothers. And Patty Thompson, Syd's mother, said she can't help but giggle when she warns her son with a forced authoritative tone: "Don't make me come down there early!"