Two more footballers face off today. We have WR Vinny Strang taking on DB Syd'Quan Thompson. Both were definitely fan favorites. The winner will take on Mike Pawlawski in the next round. This is the Pete Newell Regional.
You can read the whole bracket here. Voting will end on April 22 at noon. So, vote early and vote often. A fuller look at the matchup after the jump. GO BEARS!
Pete Newell Regional
Syd'Quan Thompson (6)
My first memories of Syd'Quan Thompson was his performance against Tennessee. Most Cal fans will remember it wasn't good. Tennessee was scoring touchdowns on him. The aftermath of his performance was devastating. People were ripping him left and right saying how bad he sucks and how he shouldn't be playing. But what a lot of those people didn't realize was that Syd's problems against Tennessee were because he was wearing a cast on one of his wrists and he couldn't tackle. The problems weren't that he was blowing coverages. And if my memory serves me correctly, I don't think Tennessee really scored a touchdown over Syd; their touchdowns came from underneath passes where their WRs sort of ran over Syd's one handed attempts to pull them down. In other words, Syd's problems weren't really his coverage abilities. I'm not sure many Cal fans realized that though.
In my eyes, when I saw Syd see his first real reps in practice and on the field in 2006, my opinion was that Syd was a solid practice player. He covered his men well, and was around the ball when it was headed in his direction. He seemed like a solid player with a pretty good chance at being a great CB. A lot of Cal fans thought to the contrary though.
(Photo from The Daily Nathan)
I had no idea Syd'Quan Thompson would be as good as he is today but I got my first hint that he might be this good at the 2006 Cal Football Awards banquet. At that banquet Daymeion Hughes (now Dante Hughes) won one of the defensive player awards.
When he took the stage to accept his award, he went through the usual thanks to family, coaches, and friends. Then he did something a little different. He went on to encourage the younger CBs to keep at it, practice hard, and don't give up. He said they could be as good as him. Then he singled out Syd'Quan Thompson. He said to Syd, in front of the entire banquet, that Syd could be better than him. He said it many times. "Syd, you can be better than me." He said it with conviction. He knew it.
I've talked about this many times before, but when somebody really good at their trade points out that someone else can be just as good or even better, you better listen. Those that are some of the best at their trade know what it takes to become the best, and who has what it comes to be the best. In 2006, Dante Hughes was one of the best CBs in the nation. He knew what it takes to get there, and he saw that Syd'Quan Thompson had it too.
Vinny Strang (11)
OhioBear: Small in stature, but the heart of a Golden Bear. Tough as nails. Scored the go-ahead touchdown in the 2003 Big Game. His epic punt return TD at Illinois (which I witnessed live with CALumbus Bear) was an awesome thing to watch live!
Danzig: If you're a Holmoecaust survivor you know who this is... if not, let me just say that Vinnie Strang was our Rudy. Every time he made a play the crowd (all eight of us) would go wild... he was the underdog's underdog.
Take the time to watch this highlight reel. Vinny was listed at 5'7, 150 lbs. Think about that for a moment. That's smaller than most of us and he went toe to toe with recruited Div-I, Pac-10 5* bluechippers and more than held his own. In a game largely dominated by the thoroughbreds, here was an Everyman who made plays with heart and determination. A true Golden Bear for the ages.
Scout.com has a great two-part interview here.
"In his final game at Cal, a 52-49 win over Virginia Tech in the 2003 Insight Bowl, Strang delivered yet another highlight-reel moment. After two end-arounds had resulted in little gain earlier in the evening, Tedford called the play again with 8:34 left and Strang scampered into the end zone from 13 yards out to give his team a 49-35 advantage. "
"Despite his small stature, Strang still found a way to be a success on the field. "I knew that I was fast and agile and that allowed good things to happen," he said. "I knew that I was going to get hit, get knocked down and that there would be times where physically I would get beat. I knew that I could get up and keep going at it. Someone might get me once but I will get him more than one time. I'm going to go out there, believe in myself and my teammates that I will get the job done. Despite the fact that I am undersized, I'm going to find a seam, find a way to get off the line and keep working. Once I'm in the open field, it doesn't matter how big you are, if I see something I will take advantage of it." "
"At 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, Strang is all heart. From first impression, he has no business beating the opposing secondary. Thankfully, the instant replay erases any doubts.
"People underestimate you when you are undersized," said Strang. "I can use my speed to my advantage. I can get guys on their heels and loosen them up a little. They aren't ready if you blow by."
Kansas State wasn't ready. Neither was Colorado State. Strang burned both secondaries for 34-yard and 30-yard touchdown catches, respectively. And against Illinois, his 68-yard punt return late in the first half put Cal up by two touchdowns. As one of the fastest players on the team, Strang has a knack for getting open, as well as stretching the defense."