Cal Football

Patrick Laird Making a Push

September 8, 2017
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Seniors Tre Watson and Vic Enwere are unquestionably the top two running backs on Cal's depth chart. 

But the drop off to No. 3 has been narrowing for awhile, and it is even slimmer now. Junior Patrick Laird, who has been with the Cal program since 2014, is pushing the first two for playing time. A walk-on from San Luis Obispo, Laird was finally given a scholarship last month and quickly proved he was deserving. Last Saturday, at a crucial point in the game he turned a medium range pass into a highlight reel 54 yard scoring play against North Carolina. 

"He's progressing great," said offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, who doubles as runnings back coach. "We have three guys who bring something a little bit different to the table. In Pat's situation, he's earned that. He showed in fall camp, when he's on the field he can make a play and he made a huge one.

"He brings a little bit of everything. He's very diverse in what he can do as a tailback. He can get out and run routes. ...From a skill set standpoint he can do a little bit of everything. He can get out on the edges, not that he doen't run between the tackles, but sometimes he's at his best when he gets out on the edge with certain run plays."

Laird's Cal career has been on the ascent since he arrived on campus, athough the progrees has just been a little slow. He was something of a high school legend in San Luis Obispo, where racked up unwordly statistics at Mission Prep: In three years he rushed for 4,551 yards and 50 touchdowns on 547 carries, an 8.3 yard average per carry, and he caught 47 passes for 734 yards and 11 TDs.

A workhorse, he carried the ball 41 times in one game and his coach, Chad Henry, said afterwards that he was every bit as dynamic on the 41st carry as he was on the first one.

However, perhaps unimpressed by the quality of Mission Prep's opposition, no FBS school offered him a scholarship. He considered the Ivy League -- his brother plays safety at Cornell -- but ultimately walked on at Cal. He played five games as a freshman, none after midseason, and was shifted to wide receiver as a sophomore and was a redshirt that year.

Last year he was back to running back, saw minimal action at that position, but was active on special teams. With coaching change he wasn't sure what to expect. Early in fall camp new coach Justin Wilcox told Laird he wanted to meet with him after practice. Knowing such summons to not always bode well, Laird was uneasy. 

Then Wilcox gave him the good news, he was now a full-scholarship player.  "It is has been a goal of mine," he said. "I think that every walk-on wants to earn a scholarship eventually. On that day, at that specific time, I didn't know if I was going to get one. I thought I had a good chance to get one this year because there were a couple of spots open. But the day it happened it defintely was a surprise.

"I called my parents and said, 'Hey, you don't have to worry about paying for school anymore.' It was very gratifying They were happy for me. I was happy to help them out financially."

Laird showed the Bears they made a wise investment in the third quarter last Saturday.  With Cal trailing 17-14 it was 3rd-and-6 on the Bears 46-yard line. Quarterback Ross Bowers rolled out to his left to avoid a oncoming Carolina rusher, managed to set himself and found Laird open 14 yards down field near the left sideline. A good play so far, but the fun was just beginning. 

"That was the designed route, I had a release to the left, a wheel route." Laird said. " They just happened to bring a blitz to that side, Ross recognized the blitz, set it up, spinned out. He saw me, knew I was going to be there. After that it was just downfield blocking by the receivers."

Laird's ingenuity also came into play. He scooted about ten yards down field before being confronted by a defender. Rather than keep running into trouble, Laird slowed down to an near stop. 

"(Cal receiver) Jordan Veasy came," Laird said. "Originally I was about to get pushed out of bounds. But when I saw Veasy out of my peripheral, I decided to slow down, let him take the block and see if I could get five or ten more yards." He got more than that.

Veasy got in the way of the would-be tackler and Laird reacted. "When he made the block I kind of slowed down, and I guess I shed a tackle (actually more than one) from behind and it kind of opened up."

Demetris Robertson also provided some interference as Laird sped across the goal line."

"After you get the ball in your hands, whether you are a running back or receiver, it's all instinct," Laird said.

Baldwin said he had planned to play all three of his running backs going into the game against North Carolina.

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