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Cal Football

Six Newcomers To Watch This Fall

August 28, 2019
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Each year the fall training camp provides opportunities for first-time players to impress coaches and earn a spot on the depth chart. This year was no different as several newcomers — freshmen and transfers alike — impressed early. Below we take a look at six of those players that caught our eye as we covered every day of fall training camp.

Ben Hawk Schrider

Schrider isn’t new to Berkeley or to college football, but he is new to Cal’s football team and was one of three players to walk-on this fall and earn a scholarship. The Berkeley-native first played for Richmond and then Tennessee-Chattanooga where he recorded 3.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss last season as a junior. When given the opportunity to come back and play his graduate transfer year at Cal while earning a masters degree, Schrider took it and has impressed the entire coaching staff early with his edge-rushing ability as an OLB and end.

“I’ve really been pleasantly surprised with him,” Defensive Coordinator Tim DeRuyter said this fall. “He’s a physical football player. The guy can set an edge, he can rush a passer, and he knows enough about passing to play in space.”

Head Coach Justin Wilcox was also singing Schrider’s praises early as he frequented to QB pocket quite a bit during fall camp.

“(He’s a) physical guy,” Wilcox said of Hawk-Schrider. “He’s played quite a bit of football so there’s a lot of carryover. Big, physical, mature. Not just physically but mentally, how he handles things and how he approaches meetings. If he can keep it going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him carve out a niche. We’re definitely encouraged and glad he’s with us.”

Kuony Deng

Similar to Schrider, Deng comes to Berkeley with some collegiate football experience, albeit at the junior college level. Still, Deng has impressed coaches, teammates, and observers early both with his size and length and with his instincts and athleticism. At 6-6 and 220 pounds, Deng was the top-rated outside linebacker in the 247 Sports composite JuCo rankings. After playing basketball and football at VMI in Virginia, Deng spent a year at Independence Community College in Kansas to focus solely on football. He picked Cal after official visits to Texas A&M, UCLA, and Virginia Tech and before a planned trip to LSU.

Even if Deng doesn’t directly impact a play, coaches and players have seen ways his height and wingspan have disrupted plays. “A lot more overthrown balls because he’s so long,” starting cornerback Cam Bynum said during fall camp. “He can get his hands up and get more PBUs or more airtime for us to get under the balls.”

DeRuyter also noticed Deng early, who earned a starting position at linebacker.

“He’s a really hungry football player. He’s a guy that’s been working at it since he got here. He’s got a really big upside,” DeRuyter said.

“He’s still pretty thin but he’s becoming more of a complete football player,” DeRuyter continued, noting Deng’s ability to play the inside linebacker position with the ability to read and run with the running backs. For third-down situations, DeRuyter said they could use him as an edge rusher. “We’d love to get a bunch of guys that look like him,” DeRuyter said, adding it would allow them to play for four-linebacker packages.

Brett Johnson

The true freshman from Phoenix has impressed early with both his ability to pass rush and stack up blockers on run plays. Coming to campus as a defensive end, his size and athleticism combined with the absence of Aaron Maldonado and Siuligisipai Fuimaono at the nose guard has opened up an opportunity for Johnson to earn some early playing time. At 6-5 and 285 pounds, Johnson isn’t exactly the typical nose guard size, but senior linebacker Evan Weaver said during fall camp that could be a good thing.

“I think it helps us a lot more with the pass rush, having a little guy in the middle and being able to rush the passer from different angles,” Weaver said. “Instead of having a 330-pounder down there, you have somebody 290 who is a little bit quicker  ...We have the 330-pounder if we need him, Having all those angles makes it better.”

Look for Johnson to get some early snaps as he is currently sitting in backup positions at the nose guard and end positions.

Makai Polk

Offensive Coordinator Beau Baldwin has emphasized the explosive plays this fall. Busting big pass and run plays has been a consistent talking point for basically everyone involved with the Bears offense. And for the pass, Polk showed just as much potential as pretty much any other receiver this fall in breaking open a big down-field play. As a senior at El Cerrito High, Polk caught 30 passes for 900 yards. With an average of 30-yards per caught pass, Polk has some explosive plays under his belt. His early play has impressed Wilcox early, which has earned Polk a back-up role at the receiver position.

“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.

“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.”

With Baldwin openly saying he expects seven or eight receivers to see significant time this season, look for Polk to see the field often. And if his big-play prowess transfers from high school to college, expect to see quite a bit of him.

Kekoa Crawford

For the college football recruiting nerd, Crawford’s presence on this list is no surprise. Coming out of Santa Margarita Catholic in southern California in 2016, Crawford was a highly talented and coveted recruit when he committed and signed with Michigan. The four-start and nearly top-100 recruit racked up 159 receptions for 2,761 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns during three years of varsity high school play. During his two years at Michigan, Crawford played in 13 games where he hauled in14 receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Crawford left Michigan after the 2017 season mainly because the Wolverines have been stacked at the receiver position. After sitting a year for NCAA transfer rules, Crawford is set to play this fall.

Crawford sits behind senior Jordan Duncan at the wide receiver position, but as stated above about Polk, look for Crawford to earn some significant playing time as Baldwin will likely implement a receiving by committee plan, at least early on in the season. Again, akin to Polk, Crawford will add a potential explosive play dimension that was basically non-existent for the Bears in 2018.

DeShawn Collins

Currently sitting third on the depth chart at running back behind Christopher Brown, Jr. and Marcel Dancy, look for Collins to potentially see the field a bit this season. The 5-10, 195-pound rusher out of Sacramento put up video game numbers in high school. He was the first all-purpose back ever in the Sacramento area to record more than 2,000-yard rushing seasons in back to back years when he did it as a junior in 2014 and senior in 2015. Collins also hauled in 63 receptions for more than 1,200 yards while in high school. During his lone season of play at the City College of San Francisco, Collins rushed 192 times for 923 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 28 catches for 434 yards and four TDs.

Look for Collins to fill in early for Brown and Dancy as he adds quite a bit with his ability to catch passes and run downfield. 

Discussion from...

Six Newcomers To Watch This Fall

2,818 Views | 8 Replies | Last: 4 mo ago by DavisBear
GivemTheAxe
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Glad to see that there are 3 newcomers on Offense as well as 3 on Defense.
The Defensive side of the ball is already well-stocked. Where we desperately need new blood is on the Offensive side.
calumnus
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For those who haven't seen Collins' tape:


Blazing speed. Extremely versatile. Great on the swing pass. Looks like a video game. Kind of player that will make the OC look like a genius if he can get him the ball in space.

Go Bears!
Big C
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Built like a fire hydrant (but one with wheels). I love RBs like that. Our four backs have complimentary skill sets and I think they're going to have a solid year for us!
CALiforniALUM
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Big C said:

Built like a fire hydrant (but one with wheels). I love RBs like that. Our four backs have complimentary skill sets and I think they're going to have a solid year for us!


Is that what the OL told you?
oskirules
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calumnus said:

For those who haven't seen Collins' tape:


Blazing speed. Extremely versatile. Great on the swing pass. Looks like a video game. Kind of player that will make the OC look like a genius if he can get him the ball in space.

Go Bears!
I will be looking for Collins and Crawford all game Saturday.
91Gypo
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I expected to see Travon Clark in this article. I'm really hoping he is a contributor this season.
91Gypo
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Sorry Trevon
DavisBear
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Yes, Trevon Clark seems to have a lot of hype coming in, but I haven't heard much about him this fall. Hopefully it's more due to us having more depth this year
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