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Cal Football

Sturdivant Ready to Make His Mark at Cal

April 20, 2022

One of the most highly-recruited and fastest receiver recruits in Cal's history, with offers from Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, rival Stanford and many more, former 2021 Flower Mound, Texas UnderArmor All-American wide receiver J.Michael Sturdivant came in with big expectations last summer.

An early hand injury and some inconsistency with his hands prevented Sturdivant from getting off to the fast start he was hoping for so he redoubled his efforts in the offseason to be ready to turn it up in 2022.

“Over the offseason, I was just working on being more explosive, getting flexible, working on my speed, and then studying the playbook, so that when spring ball came around I could play confidently, and not have to think as much as I did in the fall,” said Sturdivant. 

“I was on the jugs a lot over the offseason and then the receivers and quarterbacks came together and ran a lot of routes over the offseason, too.”

Sturdivant was asked if the transition to practicing the first half of the season with his hand in a cast made it difficult to get in a rhythm once he returned.

“Well yeah, but I like the movement of my feet so I didn’t really like to think about it as too much of a bad thing,” said Sturdivant. “I was always working on my one-hand catches when I could when I had the club on. Actually, when it came off I was just focused on getting my hand strength back and after I got it off there was no turning back so I feel pretty good right now.”

Sturdivant is playing a high level so far this spring and the joy he has within him after making big plays spills forth easily on the field.

“I love to play football so coming out here and being able to play a sport that I love with people that I live with and I'm around all the time is something that I usually don't get all the time,” said Sturdivant.

The receiving corps play with a lot of camaraderie and their affinity for each other is more than apparent on and off the field.

“Yeah, the locker room is really tight,” said Sturdivant.  “We crack jokes a lot and everyone knows everybody; everyone knows everyone's name in the locker room. We get along very well. You might've seen a couple TikTok's we made having fun. That's just what this team is: we like to have fun.”

With all the recruiting attention Sturdivant received as a prep, many have wondered what the secret sauce was that lured the talented receiver from Texas to Cal. Chalk up wide receivers coach Burl Toler as one of the main ingredients.

“Out of high school ever since the first phone call, I knew me and him had an instant connection,” said Sturdivant. “So coming out here visiting and then committing and coming out here in the fall and him not changing at all is something that I knew was going to happen. I’m just thankful that he was the receiver coach that he was and is today.”

And beyond Toler?

“It was the players and the coaches,” said Sturdivant. “They’re all very inviting. They recruited me well and they kept it real. The players were very personal. I made a group chat way before I even had committed and we just kind of got to know each other before that. So then when we came up here and everyone committed, it was like we clicked, like we'd known each other for a long time, and for most of us, it was the first time seeing each other. So being able to come out here and have that instant connection with the coaches and the players was something I knew was going to happen, and you can't really beat a Berkeley degree, as well.” 

The confidence in the receivers room is sky high now, particularl with a pair of QBs who have been delivering the ball right on the money, pass after pass.

“Our receiver room is extremely explosive and I'm sure everyone knows that right now, so having two gunslingers that can come in and can throw it to us and allow us to expand the field is something that is going to be really fun to do this season,” said Sturdivant. “Everyone’s seeing it right now that we're able stretch the field and show off how dynamic our receiving room is.” 

Timing patterns between speedy receivers and new to fairly new QBs can take a while to get down but the QB-receiver chemistry seems more than consistent so far this spring -the type of chemistry that doesn’t happen without a lot of off-field time spent building a reliable connection.

“Absolutely, building chemistry with the quarterbacks is something that's very important and throwing all the way since January and throwing all the way up to spring ball is something that's showing now,” said Sturdivant. “We’re able to hit each other or they’re able to hit us in stride, and we’re able to just not have to worry about ball placement and just worry about getting to where we have to be; the quarterbacks gonna put it on us every time.

“We used to meet up twice a week. So during the offseason,  we have down days on Wednesdays and Saturdays so we’d come out after our lift inside and come out and just work our routes and work on timing and everybody would show up so it's just making the chemistry better with every quarterback and every receiver.”

Even though he's been a big producer so far this spring, Sturdivant is content to do whatever it takes to help lead his team to victory.

“I just want to come in and help this team win games,” said Sturdivant. “I know our receiver room is extremely dynamic so I just want to play my spot and do whatever I can to help this team win.”

Receivers coach Burl Toler is typically understated praising his players with the media but nevertheless, it's clear he likes what he sees in his wide receiver room this season.

“I”m excited about these guys,” said Toler. “Obviously, we’ll see in the fall as they keep progressing. It's a sharp group. It’s a little more exciting and jumps out to people who haven’t been around them every day. But it's the competition I see day in and day out, whether it’s in meeting room or getting a 3.28 GPA as a group, to everything we’re doing on and off the field.

“So it’s not a surprise to me. I’m just excited to see them do it out here and to produce on the field. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do the rest of spring and carrying it forward to summer and fall.”

Sturdivant has glowing reviews for his wide receiver teammates and was asked his thoughts on some of the individual players, starting with one of the leaders in room, Jeremiah Hunter.

“Jeremiah, he's a great player, he's a nice leader and he has a lot of energy and everyone can feed off that,” said Sturdivant. “Everyone in the room has energy. It's just cool to play with everyone out there. And everyone's very supportive. When we have good plays everyone's out there celebrating. So that's something that's really important about our room. Everyone's close together and everyone's able to work off each other's energy.

“Tommy’s the guy,” said Sturdivant of Tommy Christakos. “He's nicknamed Top Shelf Tommy because he goes off and gets it off the top shelf every time, so it's great to have a guy like that to bring energy every time a jump ball goes up in the air. But everyone's just trying to be like him and get up and go compete for those 50/50 balls and make them more like 70/30 balls. So it's something we need to have in our receiver room and come down with all those. 

“He's just got an eye for catching the ball. This whole room we can go up and get it. So Tommy, he just has a lot of opportunities to go up and get it, and we just love to see him go up and grab those. He's just a lot of energy that can help our practice improve. 

“Mason Starling, he's a nice guy coming in. We clicked instantly seeing him on his visit when he was up here so when he enrolled, it wasn’t the first time we’d got together with him. Him on the field, he's a great guy. He’s explosive, has nice routes, moves very well, and he's a big guy so he's obviously going to be a deep threat.”

Sturdivant was asked if he saw a little of former JC transfer Trevon Clark, who graduated and moved on after the 2021 season.

“Yeah he and Trevon run a lot of routes the exact same,” noted Sturdivant. “And the first time we came out and saw him run, a lot of us looked at each other and were like, it's like a spitting image of Trevon’s run so that's cool to see that, but yeah he's a great explosive guy and he's just another part of our super dynamic receiving room.

“Mavin’s another guy that just gets it done. Fast, good routes, good hands, the whole package.”

“We’re getting reps from a lot of different bodies,” said Toler. “JMike's doing his thing, coming in and being able to move around. Tommy Christakos, Aidan Lee -some of those guys who haven't gotten too many reps last year- being able to produce and show that they can do things with this offense and really have fun and bring some electric offense to this team.”

What does the former 4 star receiver expect from the Bears’ offense this season?

“Our offense just wants to come out here and score,” said Sturdivant. ”Scoring is the main thing about being an offensive player so we go and do our best to help this offense succeed and put points on the board. “

Other stories:

Anderson Turning Heads With Speed, Hands

Christakos Opening Eyes in Spring Ball

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