The master of the one-handed touchdown grab and a wide array of acrobatic, did-you-see-that catches, 6'3" Cal receiver Kenny Lawler's touchdown grab last weekend in Austin almost wasn't fair
as the junior receiver with size XXL mitts went up and over his helpless defender to haul in one of his two touchdown receptions in Cal's 45-44 victory over the Longhorns in Austin.
"It's unfortunate for the db to have a 6'3" receiver with a quarterback that can get it to him like that," said Lawler, with a smile. "It's a hard thing to defend."
Continuing a pattern of winning on the road and building on last season's three road victories, the Bears' win at Texas, while a little too close for comfort for Cal fans in the end, was a statement win for a team eager to believe that they can compete for a division title this season.
"I looked at it as a neat experience," said Lawler. "It's not every day that you can play in a stadium with like 100,000 fans. That was something I dreamed of growing up -playing on the big stage, in as front of as many fans as can be.
"It was just a great experience and I used that energy in the stadium to help fuel my game."
The 94,000+ in attendance was the largest crowd that any of the current Bears have played in front of and the moment and the signficance was not lost on Lawler.
"We view the road as a personal challenge," said Lawler. "We come ready to play. Our mentality is that no one can hurt us but ourselves."
After rallying from a 2nd quarter 10-point deficit, it appeared the Bears were more than up for the challenge, scoring 31 unanswered points to go up by 21 heading into the 4th quarter. Then that all-too-familiar sinking feeling set in for Lawler and his teammates as they watch speedy quarterback Jerrod Heard run wild, almost single-handedly bringing his Longhorns back before their rally fell short with a missed PAT in the closing minute in the Bears' victory.
"Yeah, it did remind us some of Arizona, with us being up by 21 and seeing them catching up," said Lawler. "It can kind of be frustrating for a receiver when you take your foot off the pedal, trying to protect the lead.
"That's a challenge we'll need to figure out in future games, just trying to figure out the best way to protect our lead."
This week presents a new challenge for the Bears, taking to the road for the second week in a row to kick off their Pac-12 season in Seattle.
"We feel really good coming up there," said Lawler. "We're a better team and a more confident team and we just feel like we can play with the best of them.
"It shouldn't be like the other games fans have seen in the last six years."
Tied for the national lead in touchdowns with five, Lawler's become a national name, with questions surrounding him about a potential early departure to the NFL after his redshirt junior season this year, but the subject is one that Lawler's in no hurry to address.
"Being an underclassman, I don't really like to think about stuff like that," said Lawler. "I'm not really a selfish person, thinking a lot about stuff like that. I'm here for my team.
"I guess a lot of it will be if I'm physically, mentally and emotionally ready for it, to handle the pressures and expectations everyone would have for me. It goes from being a game like it is now, to a job."
The fact that Lawler's even in position to make that decision could be considered somewhat of a surprise after struggling academically to qualify at Cal then struggling mightily in the classroom and on the field after his arrival with the realization that he was going to have to bide his time to see his collegiate dreams come true.
"I'd say I was a bit of a knucklehead back in the day in high school," said Lawler. "A lot of people go through it, I think.
"It was tough my redshirt year. I didn't have a lot of guidance and I wasn't playing and I was having to work so hard in class.
"That first semester was an especially rough transition. It was wearing me down.
"Not playing. Making bad decisions. Skipping practice. Not going to class.
"I would just do stupid stuff. Selfish stuff.
"I had to grow out of it if I wanted to remain on the team."
Following his tumultuous freshman year -a year that almost saw the Upland native transfer, the light finally came on for Lawler and his transformation as both a student and an athlete began.
"I reached a point where I had to make a decision and figure out how I was going to make this work for me," said Lawler.
"My mentor challenged me and asked me what I was going to do to get my passion for football back and how was I going to face my adversity?
"I thought about that a lot. When you're redshirting, you have a lot of time to think. You lose part of your identity. You lose part of your game because you know you won't be on the field for games.
"When you're on scout team, you can't go 100% so you don't feel like you're getting or giving your best. So sometimes I got discouraged."
Watching Lawler grow from a big kid with a chip on his shoulder to a confident young man in his four years at Cal, the difference is night and day. The joy that fans see on the field after a big play is the same joy you'll see the big receiver display just about wherever you see him -a contentment and satisfaction that he and his team are meeting the challenge and living up to expections.
"I've always been the kind of guy that likes a challenge and likes to prove doubters wrong," said Lawler. "I've always had a lot of people that doubted me and said I wouldn't make it athletically or academically.
"I started working harder in the classroom, harder in the weight room and it carried onto the field. I knew that I had to change my attitude to get on the field and do well in class.
"Since then, football's been great. My academics are great. I'll be graduating in the spring and once I've walked, I can take D-Cal in the fall my senior year.
"Once I knew I could compete at the college level in everything, there was no stopping me."
Watch out, world. Kenny's coming.