The Best Receivers in the Nation
This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Sept. 22, 2007.
By John Sudsbury, Cal Media Relations
The talented tandem. The touchdown trio. The three amigos. Three-for-all. Run DRL. Cal Mobile (least dropped balls, best connections). Call them what you like but the consensus is that California stars Lavelle Hawkins, DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan compose the best wide receiver unit in the nation. And while they all bring different skills to the table, their common feature is speed. So much speed that opposing defenses have a tough decision on how to prevent them from finding the end zone.
Forget the 40-yard times, though they are all sub-4.4's, the only stats that truly matter are points on the board. The Golden Bear triumvirate has tallied 192 points in their careers - 32 touchdowns, to go with 270 total catches and 3,895 yards. And that does not include the return game in which all three have contributed.
'Without a doubt, our receiving corps is a strength for us,' Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. 'Those three guys really create a lot of positive things offensively. Defenses can't load up on one guy. It's great to have that speed and athleticism across the board; and they all catch the ball very well. I would think our receivers as a group are as good as anyone's in the country.'
'It's very valuable to be able to have that type of speed on the field at all times,' receivers coach Dan Ferrigno said. 'And it's not just speed, it's skill, quickness, catching ability, dependability, there is no substitute for everything they bring to the table. Opponents have to look at that. All three of these guys can play. You have to account for all of them on every play.'
When you don't account for each of them, they burn you. Last season, the troika recorded 10 pass plays of 40 or more yards. Hawkins, who has touchdown receptions in four of his last five games, went for 42 yards on one play against Minnesota and another 44 against Arizona. Jordan, who ranks third in the nation with catches in 32 straight games, snagged a key 44-yard touchdown against UCLA. And of course Jackson, the game-breaker, has a host of big plays, including a 62-yard catch-and-run away from the defense against Arizona and a 48-yard long out-run the defense and then catch the touchdown against Minnesota.
All three are making their marks on the Golden Bear history books as well. Jackson, a record-setting punt returner, has cracked the top five all-time in receiving touchdowns (16) while Hawkins, who has been an effective kick returner, surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in the Colorado State game. Jordan, meanwhile, has the streak of 32 games with a catch - four more games and he matches the Cal record set back in 1992 by Brian Treggs.
This season, with Jackson on the cover of magazines and the focus of much national attention, defenses have entered games fearing the 6-0, 171-pounder more than ever. But taking their eyes off Jordan and Hawkins can be painful. Jordan, who was slowed by a rib injury against Colorado State, continues to catch balls every game, including a spectacular catch, dodge, run and jump into the end zone against Tennessee. Hawkins, who was described as the most complete receiver of the group by Colorado State coaches, leads the Bears with 12 catches for 133 yards.
Now in their third year playing together, Cal's triangle of offense embraces their reputation as the best receivers in the nation.
'[I like that label because] we put a lot of hard work into our game,' Jackson said. 'We worked together at getting better through the off-season. We did a lot of work with Nate [Longshore] and he dedicated a lot of time to us as well. All of us bring something different to the table and we're all capable of doing big things. I think we are the best receivers in the nation.'
'We see teams play man against everybody else and then they come out and play cover-two against us,' Jordan said. 'After the first series is over and we score, we go back and laugh because they're playing us different.''All of the plays that we made last year; it's paying off for us right now,' Hawkins said. 'It puts a lot of pressure on us because there are a lot more eyes on us and we have to make plays each week, but I like that; we all like that. Other teams think that if they can stop us, they can stop anybody. We just need to go out every day and handle our business.'
While all three of the speedsters are California products, all three took different routes to Berkeley. Jordan was the first on the scene. A local product from Hayward High School, the 5-11, 171-pounder was an All-Region selection at both wide receiver and defensive back, though his touchdown numbers kept him on the offensive side o the ball in college. Expected to redshirt as a freshman, Jordan was pressed into action after a multitude of injuries during 2004. He responded by snagging 29 passes for 332 yards, second on the team in just eight games of action.
After an All-American high school career at Edison High School in Stockton, Hawkins began his collegiate career at LSU before transferring to City College of San Francisco, where he also earned All-America recognition. He teamed with former Golden Bears Joe Ayoob and Desmond Bishop to lead CCSF to the California community college state championship game.
Jackson was one of the highest-rated Cal recruits of all-time. After a dominant career at high-school football powerhouse Long Beach Poly, the junior was ready to move away from his comfort zone in Southern California to help establish a program on the rise - mission accomplished.Since the triplets have come together at Cal, the receivers have grown and matured together, learning to enjoy the benefits they gain from playing together.
'They've been a good unit to work with,' Ferrigno said. 'They understand the value of the whole team and playing together and working together, blocking, all the things you have to do to be a complete receiver.'
By recognizing the value of the whole team, the receivers have learned to celebrate a touchdown regardless of who scores it. While there is intense competition between the group, a catch by one receiver is a credit to the entire group, and a victory for the team is all that matters.
'It doesn't matter who scores,' Hawkins said. 'As long as we get the win and we get to the national championship.'
'This offense, we like to score a lot of points,' Jackson said. 'That is always our goal, so it doesn't matter who scores, I am definitely going to be happy.'
While the touchdown triple-threat uses its individual skills to lift itself above, or more accurately, to run itself past, the opposition perhaps its greatest asset has been the development of a camaraderie and sense of purpose, the drive to excel together and to defeat every opponent by whatever means necessary.
'Some people don't believe we're the best, so we try to prove it every week,' Jordan said. 'We want to make everybody believe. We probably have the best chemistry in the nation. We've been doing it for three years together. I don't know three other people who have our kind of chemistry.'