Dykes has ‘Rose Bowl goal’ for Cal football

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Dykes has ‘Rose Bowl goal’ for Cal football

BERKELEY -- Sonny Dykes vows to light up the scoreboard as the new head coach of the California Golden Bears. As long as those offensive assaults are accompanied by the occasional New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena, the fans will oblige him.

“Everybody’s goal in the program is to reach the Rose Bowl,” he said after Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour introduced him at Memorial Stadium Thursday afternoon. “That means you’ve won a conference championship. That’s why you coach. That’s why you play.”

With 2012 marking the 75th anniversary of the Bears’ last victory in the game, Dykes, who called the Cal opening as the job he’s wanted “since day one,” has his work cut out for him.  His predecessor, Jeff Tedford, was shown the door after 11 seasons for falling short of the objective, but the 43-year-old Texan and 2011 WAC Coach of the Year is confident he is the right man for the job.

“Building a winning program is going to be a process,” Dykes said as his wife Kate and two young daughters looked on. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. How many years is it going to take? I don’t know. Is it going to be next year?  I don’t know…but I do know that’s what’s going to drive us every day. Every single day we get in our car and we come to work, our goal’s going to be [to] get to a Rose Bowl, and not only get there, but to win it.”

After a national coaching search that lasted a little over two weeks and enlisted the services of executive search firm DHR International and Cal rugby coach Jack Clark among others, Barbour selected Dykes, who rose to prominence for his prowess as head coach at Louisiana Tech. The details of his contract were not divulged, as they are still subject to final approval from the University of California regents.

“You’ve read all the statistics. You know the won-loss record. You know he’s led prolific offenses everywhere he’s been,” Barbour said. “You know that he’s been Coach of the Year, Recruiter of the Year, Assistant Coach of the Year.

“[But] you don’t know what an incredible fit he is to lead the young men in this program—today’s young men and those who will join us tomorrow and in the future. His ‘win everywhere’ mentality really encompasses his vision for Cal football.”

In three years, Dykes reversed the Bulldogs’ fortunes as they improved from 5-7 in 2010 to 9-3 this season and a WAC conference championship sandwiched in between. In 2012, Louisiana Tech in the top 25 and led the nation in scoring offense at a clip of 51.5 points per game, utilizing an unconventional offense where the center, and not the quarterback, calls the plays.    

“What we do offensively is that we figure out who the best players are, so what we’ll do every day is rank our players by position every day,” said Dykes, who said he hopes his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will join him in the Bay Area.

“If that means playing with seven [offensive linemen], we’re going to play with seven [offensive linemen], be creative in that way. You saw us this year at times line up with three running backs. There were times when we lined up with five receivers and no running backs. We played with two offensive tackles as tight ends. We’re figuring out who the best guys are and put them in those situations.”

Aside from one good junior year from Nate Longshore in 2006 and the days of Aaron Rodgers (2003-04), quarterback play has been a sore spot in recent years for Cal. Dykes delved into the type of player he would prefer under center.

“In a perfect world, we would have a [quarterback] who’s mobile and can carry the ball eight-10 times a game, if this was a perfect world,” Dykes said. “We haven’t had that at Louisiana Tech. Our guys have been more pocket guys, so that’s the type of play we’ve adjusted to.

“But we’re not a true spread option team. It’s not going to be [an] Oregon spread, and it’s not going to be a Texas Tech spread. We run the football a lot. I think we ended up in the top 15 in the country in rushing, and we were in the top 10 in passing, so it’s a diverse offense.”

One quarterback on the depth chart is promising freshman Zach Kline. The Danville native redshirted his first season at Cal, and Dykes knows all about him.

“Obviously, I’ve watched him, and I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s got great ability and you know, we’ll have to see how that all plays out,” Dykes said of Kline.

On the defensive side of the ball, Louisiana Tech struggled. Ironically enough, the unit finished last in the country from a statistical standpoint. Regarding the completion of his coaching staff, Dykes has set a timetable of 10-14 days to interview the remaining holdovers from the previous regime as well as prospective candidates outside the program.

“I have a list of four or five candidates I would like to talk to for defensive coordinator,” Dykes said. “In the Pac-12, you gotta have a strong defense to go with your offense. This will be my most important hire.”

New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker, a former assistant at Cal, has been rumored to be the frontrunner for the position and was asked about his status in Dykes’s plans.  “It’s a possibility,” he said.

Dykes, the son of longtime Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes, has an extensive résumé as an offensive assistant, with stops at Kentucky, Texas Tech (under current Washington State coach Mike Leach), and Pac-12 rival Arizona before earning his first opportunity as a head coach with Louisiana Tech in 2010.

Despite his recent success, with only a 22-15 overall record in a smaller conference like the WAC, questions were raised about his ability to connect with his new fanbase.

“I hope it won’t take too long,” Dykes said. “I think the key to getting people to buy in is have success, and being visible, and we intend to do both. [We will] get out there in the community, and see coaches and recruit hard, and be visible as much as we can. People like to follow a winner, so if we can have success on the field and have an exciting style of play, people will follow us.”

Dykes takes the reins of a Cal program that had risen as high as No. 2 in the polls in the first half of Tedford’s tenure, only to underachieve in recent years in spite of the influx of several nationally-rated recruiting classes.

The Bears will attempt to bounce back from a 3-9 season that included a subpar 2-7 mark in conference. Dykes, who briefly spoke to the team before the press conference, is aware of a lot of the personnel he will be inheriting. With National Signing Day only two months away, Dykes elaborated on his recruiting strategy.

“I think we need to get bigger and more physical up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Dykes said. “I think that’s an area we’re going to have to address here as we move forward in recruiting.

“I think it’s imperative with the physical play that happens in this league that you’re big on both side of the line, and I think recruiting begins for us with the offensive and defensive line. I think it’s where you build your program.”

As a result, the cupboard is far from bare. Although wide receiver Keenan Allen will depart early for the NFL Draft, more than one-fifth of the scholarship players on the roster are former U.S. Army or Under Armour high school All-Americans.

Two such players, quarterback Allan Bridgford and safety Avery Sebastian, were on hand for the press conference and commented on their new head coach.

“We’ve seen the success he’s had at Arizona, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech, so I’m excited,” Bridgford said. “It’s going to be a real nice fit for us. We have a lot of talented receivers.  We have very talented running backs in [Brendan] Bigelow and [Daniel] Lasco and those guys, who are big guys but are real fast…so I think we definitely have the personnel for this offense.”

Sebastian recapped the team’s first meeting with Dykes: “He was really enthusiastic about the opportunity to be here at Cal, and the opportunities that are going to be presented to the team. We’re all looking forward to the future and seeing how everything’s going to play out.”

Another major issue plaguing Cal in 2012 was the classroom. The Bears finished last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate at a staggering 48 percent. Dykes is cognizant that this number will be unacceptable at Berkeley, a school that prides itself on his academic tradition.

“What we have to do from day one is instill expectations,” Dykes said. “We’re going to expect our players to attend every class, to attend every study hall session, to attend every tutoring session, and not only attend them, but do their best.”

Dykes shared a brief part of his conversation with his new team Thursday morning.

“It’s like I told our players today,” he added. “‘You’re here at the number one public institution in the country…in these beautiful facilities with these beautiful resources, how could you not wake up every day excited?  How could you not go out there and do your best?’ So that’s going to be our challenge to our players.”

Of course, while the sagging graduation rates did not help Tedford’s case to keep his job, the product on the field sealed his fate. With renovations to Memorial Stadium and the new Simpson Student-Athlete High Performance Center costing the school a combined $471 million, the pressure will be on Dykes to pack the house and deliver a winner.

“There’s no doubt that playing an exciting brand of football and winning, and having that success will draw the fans,” Barbour said. “You’re going to see those results on the football field, and that’s what we’re committed to doing.”

Ryan Maquiñana covers college sports and boxing for CSNBayArea.com. Contact him through email at rmaquinana@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.

 

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.