(2) J.J. Arrington
Tightwad Hill ranked Arrington the 10th greatest Golden Bear football player...ever.
Cal fans were understandably anxious to see what Arrington would do carrying the full workload in 2004. What he did was have the greatest season by any player in the history of Cal football. That's right. The greatest season ever.
In each of his 12 games, Arrington hit for at least 100 yards - the only back in America to make that claim. Against Air Force in the opener, he scored three times including an 89-yard run that set a Cal record. 3 more scores against NMSU, and then a couple of off games - 108 yards and a TD v Oregon State and 112 in the heartbreak loss to SC. Then J.J. got serious. UCLA was torched for 205 yards and two scores in the next outing, and then ASU, Oregon, Washington and Stanford all surrendered a touchdown and at least 120 yards to #30.
But J.J. Arrington, to us, defined himself in the rain and mud of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. You recall the scene - the Bears needed a blowout win to impress the human pollsters and vault past Texas into the Rose Bowl. It was not to be, but Arrington moved heaven and earth to make it so, rushing 31 times for 261 yards, the most by a Cal back since 1954.
Ohio Bear talks up Arrington as well.
Arrington had an all time legendary season playing for one of our most prolific teams of the last half century. And he did it sort of out of the blue. I mean, we all knew that Arrington was good and had the potential to step in and do the job, but I don't know that very many Cal fans expected that he would surpass the production of Echemandu's 2003 season, much less run for 2,000 yards. I kind of expected the 2004 Bears to be all about Rodgers and G-Mac. It wasn't.
Kodiak: We had the pleasure of meeting JJ during the spring game of his senior year. He was humble, well-spoken, and polite; he was such a nice young man that it made you want support him even more. He had the best burst of any back that we've seen. Although he didn't have Best's game-breaking speed, Marshawn's strength, Forsett's vision, or Igber's wiggle, he had a unique way of decisively hitting the hole that I've never seen before or since. We've seen shake n' bake. We've seen one cut n' go. JJ was GO. If not for being drafted by the inept Cardinals, I think he might have made some noise in the league. They took an instinctive runner and knee-capped him by forcing him into a wait/delay/read scheme that was a poor fit.
(15) Nick Harris
Interview of Nick Harris, Part 1 (via EvangelicalPatheos)
Norcalnick shares his thoughts on Nick Harris
Nick was cursed (or, perhaps blessed) to toil at Cal from 1997 to 2000, four years that didn't exactly see Cal find a great deal of success. But! BUT! It did allow him to gain invaluable experience and the time to hone his craft to an absurd degree. How much time? How about setting and NCAA record for most punts (322) and net yardage (13,621) in a career. That's approximately 80 punts per season, and more than 7 punts per game! Go Bears!
Harris's junior campaign has to be one of the greatest individual seasons in Cal history. He averaged 44 yards per punt despite often being asked to pooch punt the ball, and his longest was a booming 70 yarder. Harris and a vintage Hit Squad defense somehow managed to keep Cal competitive despite an offense not safe to be viewed by the general public.
His crowning moment was undoubtedly against UCLA on the road in 1999:
The Bears had put the Bruins in a hole when Nick Harris' 34-yard punt was downed at the UCLA 1. Harris later had a 68-yard punt, and averaged 53.1 yards for seven kicks.
So if you take away a 34 yard punt that could not have possibly traveled any further, Harris averaged 56 yards for his other 6 punts! His punting and a dominating defensive performance allowed Cal to escape with an ugly, penalty and turnover filled 17-0 victory. I distinctly remember watching this game because of Harris. Cal scored an early touchdown, but otherwise struggled moving the ball. By the 2nd quarter I was actively looking forward to punts, because that meant Harris would get the chance to pin UCLA deep. And the best chance of Cal scoring would always be a turnover or safety created by the Hit Squad. The Nick Harris for Heisman campaign was in full swing!
Interestingly enough, Harris was replaced in Jacksonville by Bryan Anger, another all-world Cal punter when Anger was drafted by the Jaguars. Harris ultimately landed with Detroit where he continues his NFL career.