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Cal Football

Freshman Receiver Polk Could Be Deep Threat

August 22, 2019

Makai Polk could be just the receiver the Cal quarterbacks are looking for. And if they find him somewhere downfield, so much the better.

The 6-3, 185-pound freshman wideout could be at least a partial solution to one of the Bears’ offensive shortcomings: the big play.

As a senior at nearby El Cerrito High last year, Polk caught 30 passes for 900 yards. If my math is correct that’s an average of 30 yards per catch. There had to be quite a few big plays in there.

The soft-spoken Polk is hardly cocky. But in a quiet voice, he answers questions honestly and he obviously has confidence in his skills.

“Definitely,” he said when asked if he felt he was capable of picking yardage in big chunks. “I can make big plays. Just give me the ball and I can make it happen. They throw the ball out there and I do my thing.”

He has been doing his thing in practice, both in the fall camp and in the spring, where he was able to participate because he graduated high school early and enrolled at Cal in January.

He made an instant impression on head coach Justin Wilcox.

“He's much more coordinated than I even thought he would have been,” Wilcox said.  “He's picked up the routes, and he looks natural coming off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes those taller guys, you're not quite sure how fast that is going to happen.

Jared Prescott, Cal Athletics
Polk has made some impressive catches in practice

“He plays confident, and he's got that athleticism. How he ends up looking, we'll see. Genetics will play a part in that and his discipline in eating and working out. He's done a nice job for a freshman, coming in mid-year and taking to it that quickly.”

In high school (he spent his sophomore and junior seasons at Dorsey High in L.A. before returning to El Cerrito) he was used as both a defensive back and wide receiver. Throw in some special teams work and Polk was very seldom on the sidelines. Now that he is playing just one position he is not quite sure what to do with himself when the Cal defense takes over.

“It’s a little easier,” he said about having to concentrate on just one position. “But I have always played offense and defense so it’s definitely different.”

Polk feels that even in a limited time he has developed a relationship with the Cal quarterbacks, especially Chase Garbers and Devon Modster. He knows where they are going to throw the ball and they know where he is going to be.

“In practice, I go with the 1s and the 2s, so I get a lot of work with Chase and Devon,” he said. And for Polk and the QBs the term “chemistry,” belongs in the science lab. 

“Here we call it ‘rad’. Good rad or bad rad.”


“Yeah, rad, as in camaraderie.”

Got it. 

Having played corner gives Polk something of an advantage. He knows what cornerbacks are thinking because he was one of them.”Playing corner in the past helps you a lot playing receiver,” he said. “Sometimes I picture myself and ask ‘What would I do?’ Then I counter it, that . That type of thing 

Jared Prescott, Cal Athletics
Polk can be a legitimate deep threat

A former track athlete, Polk is fast enough to get away from most DBs. But speed isn’t always enough. 

“It’s more a combination of things,” he said, “Sometimes I am going to beat a man with speed, I’ve got a little shake in me, as well. It’s a combination of everything and when I want to use it.

“It depends on who I am going against. Sometimes if I am going against a patient corner I might do something a little different than if I am going against an aggressive corner. I will change my technique. I am not going to change my whole technique, but I can switch up a few little things to help me get open.”

In his early football days, Polk was both a running back and a USC devotee. “When I was growing up I followed Reggie Bush I wanted to play running back,” Polk said.  He’s built different (5-10, 210), but his game I mimicked it, when I was growing.up.”

He eventually outgrew not only his USC habit, but also the running back position.

“As I started growing I got a lot taller,” he said. “That’s when they moved me to wide receiver (on offense). It was in the tenth grade.”.

Despite his youthful Trojan allegiance, Polk does have family history with Cal. According to his mother, her great-aunt Lottie Holmes was one of Cal’s first African-American female students. And his maternal grandfather, Harry Brown, was a Cal basketball player in the early 1970s. 

(Personal aside: As a long-time Cal observer, Harry Brown was one of my favorite players. He certainly wasn’t the most talented Bear ever, but no one played with more enthusiasm. He was twice voted Most Inspirational Player by his teammates.)

“I didn’t really follow Cal except when they played USC,” Polk said. “But now it’s great because my family can see me play.”

And he has a chance to play a lot.

“I think he’s got some real tools physically,” Wilcox said. “He’s got length, he can catch the ball. He’s competitive. Now it’s finding that consistency. It’s the detail of every single play, the nuances of the position, stances, starts, route depths and all those details that matter so much.

“We are pushing him on that because he has the ability to be a really good player.”

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