Who is on your personal list of the best California Golden Bears? We’ve all seen lists of “all-time greats”, but this one has a personal spin—this is specifically for players you watched personally (TV is fine), so no one from the Wonder Teams. Criteria is otherwise entirely open-ended. You can list a player for being an All-American, if you knew him personally, or if you just love following his cat’s IG account.
HydroTech: One of the best players who really “wowed” me when I started watching Cal Football was Donnie McCleskey. He was a running back in high school, but transitioned to DB in college. He began playing as a true freshman in 2002. He was 5’10”, so not very tall by any means, but it didn’t matter because he could play ball. In 2003, he led the Cal Football team with 102 tackles. He was EVERYWHERE on defense—in fact, he played the “rover” position back then. He went all over the field and was a tackling machine. McCleskey was voted team defensive MVP by the 2003 Cal team—and deserved the accolade. He gets a bit overlooked when we tend to think of the great Cal defensive backs since 2000. Most people probably think of Thomas DeCoud, Daymeion Hughes, Syd’Quan Thompson, Chris Conte, or Nnamdi Asomugha. But before all of them, it was Donnie McCleskey who was wrecking offensives from the defensive backfield.
Piotr Le: I only have watched Cal football since 2010 and one of my first memories is Keenan Allen destroying defenses and making DBs look like lost tourists in SF. Back then, I didn’t know much about football or schemes, but I knew that Allen is the best player on the field.
Another guy I had that feeling about was Jared Goff; from his freshman year as a QB of a 1–11 team to his dominance his junior year, I just saw him quietly lead the team with his grit and play-making ability.
boomtho: I joined Cal in 2007, so with that starting point, my all-time Cal team would be:
- Jahvid Best: Dude could fly and had some breathtaking plays
- Shane Vereen: Not because he was spectacular, but he was incredibly versatile, rugged, and balanced
- DeSean Jackson: The Wizard of Returns? C’mon now.
- Zack Follett: Pain Train!
- Mike Mohamed: Forever a Cal legend for his Big Game pick
- Syd’Quan Thompson: Blanketing dudes way bigger/faster than him
- Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu: They came to wreck your OL
- Marvin Jones: His success in the NFL proves that he significantly overachieved at Cal given our QB play
- Keenan Allen: Sold from the minute he walked on campus—or maybe the UC Davis game
- Jared Goff: Sold from the Northwestern game, when his arm strength and talent were immediately apparent
- Bryan Anger: 72-yard punt!
- Brock Mansion: Well, just kidding and checking to see if you were all reading
Nick Kranz: The 1998 Cal Bears were a mostly unremarkable team, but 13-year-old me was utterly enamored with one Dameane Douglas, a senior wide receiver. Douglas was coming off of a solid junior season, but I doubt that many imagined that Douglas would collect more catches in his final season (100) than he had managed in his previous three seasons combined (93). This was probably a function of Cal’s otherwise ineffective offense, which didn’t run the ball well and saw every other pass-catcher manage just 113 catches total. Douglas had just 13 fewer catches and 44 fewer yards receiving than the rest of the team combined!
Considering how utterly reliant Cal’s passing game was on their only consistent threat, it still boggles the mind that Douglas managed to get to 100 catches in just 11 games with opposing defenses trying to take him away specifically. Honestly, most of the drama I remember from that season as a young fan was whether or not Douglas would break the single-season record for catches at Cal—and whether or not he would reach the shiny three-digit milestone of 100. He managed both—and still holds the Cal record for catches in a season despite future Bears enjoying the advantages 12+ games in a season and significantly more pass-happy offenses. Dameane Douglas almost certainly isn’t the best receiver I ever watched play at Cal, but he’s one of my favorites and one who is largely overlooked because his contributions came in a season and an era that doesn’t get remembered often.
Nik Jam: I started watching Cal FB in 2006 but became a more hardcore fan when I became a student in 2009, never missing a game (or at least checking the tweets if I absolutely cannot watch for some reason) In that time the best players I’ve seen.
- QB: Goff. He was the QB when I saw Cal win at Texas, and he was a No. 1 pick!
- RB: Marshawn Lynch, Best. Obviously I have to choose Marshawn, but I only saw one season of his and only on TV. Best was the RB when I began my Cal student life and I was at his monster run at UCLA.
- FB: Malik McMorris. How could I choose anyone else?
- WR: DeSean, Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen, Chris Harper. I remember the circus catches Harper used to make the most. Marvin and Keenan were the bright spots in Tedford’s final years and I can’t not choose DeSean.
- OL: Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Brian Schwenke. I watched them play at Cal and the NFL, so I think of them highly.
- DL: James Looney, Tyson Alualu, Cam Jordan. Defense hasn’t been so memorable the last few years, but Jordan and Alualu made big names for themselves in the NFL and I think Looney will too.
- LB: Mike Mohammed, Mychal Kendricks, Zack Follett, Devante Downs. I mean at least the choice of Mohammed is obvious right? I think the others should be as well.
- DB: Syd’Quan, Chris Conte, Marc Anthony, Cam Goode. A lot of great DBs when I started to follow Cal like Thompson and Conte. I think Goode will do ... well for us too.
Rick Chen: My all-time (recent and maybe counter-culture) Cal team:
- QB: Kevin Riley. I started following Cal football in 2008. This man won us two Big Games back-to-back. (P.S. Were you one of the Cal fans who booed Tiger Woods in 2009? I was--proudly.)
- HB: Jahvid Best and Brendan Bigelow. Who doesn’t remember Jim Schwartz comparing Best’s highlights to online porn or Bigelow’s amazing 80-something-yard TD run against Ohio State?
- WR: DeSean Jackson, Keenan Allen, Marvin Jones. My roommate and I used to miss class because we were playing NCAA football on the Xbox. We played no defense at all—all passes. I like to think now it’s because we were modeling these guys and going for some realism.
- OL: Alex Mack. Mack won the academic Heisman while being consistent as hell in TD-creating blocks. You can’t get more Cal than that!
Ruey Yen: For my list, I for the most part name a few players that I am proud now to say that I had watched in college. They shaped my perception and expectation of Cal Football.
- QB - Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was the QB my senior year at Cal, but he really became that dominant Aaron Rodgers the year after I have graduated and moved east for grad school (at an Ivy school that doesn’t have real football). If not for Aaron Rodgers and the 2004 Cal Football team being very good (that’s the season where they nearly beat USC and somehow believed that they are going to the Rose Bowl after winning the Big Game), I doubt that many of the Cal games would have been available on the East Coast; I might have just stopped following Cal Football outside of the Big Games (which clearly did not happen).
- LB - Andre Carter. While the Cal team that I watched with Carter was relatively bad, Andre Carter instantly stood out as a potential future star in the NFL. He was the person who allowed me to realize that Cal Football may or may not be good, but Cal will always have great players coming through the program.
- DT/LB - Lorenzo Alexander. One of very few Cal Football players to have been in the same class that I was taking—it was a history course for breadth requirement—Alexander shocking has turned himself into a long time vet in the NFL. I honestly don’t recall any single play of his on the football field in college, but he perserved to have a long pro career.
- DB - Dante Hughes. Hughes played after I have graduated, but I remember him having a great 2006 in which he earned the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honor. As a baseball card collector, I had considered expanding my collection to also football cards, particularly those of Cal alumni. Due to both him being a relatively high pick (third round) but not a great pro player, I ended up with a bunch of Dante Hughes autographed cards. I never really looked to expand my Cal football autographed cards collection—half of it is the four Dante Hughes autographed cards.
- P - Nick Harris. Harris for Heisman was the joke-ish cheer that you could hear at Memorial Stadium during my freshman year, but he did nearly single-handedly defeat Illinois by continuing to pin them inside the 10-yard line. Harris went on to have a pretty long NFL career, although most people probably don’t really follow the career of a punter.
Leland Wong: For the record, I started at Cal in the Fall of 2005, but I’m hardly going to pretend that I was as big of a Cal Football fan back then as I am now.
- QB: Jared Goff. For the longest time, my answer here was pre-injury Nate Longshore—always requiring that cumbersome qualifier. I still think that Longshore was the victim of an unfair amount of flak from the fans, but Goff was just a next-level talent who was an absolute blast to watch.
- HB: Representing Tailback U, it was near-impossible to not just name every player I’ve watched. Honorable mentions go to Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett because I enjoyed watching them, but they came before I became perilously obsessed with Cal Football. I’ll go with the 1–2 punch of Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. Both were absolute playmakers, gamechangers, and nonstop highlight reels. Third string is Patrick Laird because I love his story of rising up from the walk-on to have a breakout year out of nowhere, but the real reason is that he’s using his platform to help others by encouraging reading. What a perfect representative for Cal.
- FB: I’m torn between Will Ta’ufo’ou and Malik McMorris here. Ta’ufo’ou was great to watch as the old-school hard-nosed fullback who would just obliterate defenders with an uber-uncommon play touching the ball. (Sup, Tennessee?) On the other hand, McMorris is this unprecedented unicorn of a player with his size and skillset and we’re blessed with getting to watch him handle the ball much more often (but still not enough).
- OL: Alex Mack, Chris Borrayo, Mike Tepper, Richard Fisher, and Dominic Galas. Mack is the easy choice here and I don’t think I need to spend any more time justifying him. I questioned why the Dykes staff would burn Borrayo’s redshirt with less than half of the season remaining, but he ended up being a stalwart starter for his Cal tenure and watching his rise was a great story. Tepper earns his nod by contributing on the field, but mainly for his heroism off the field in defending his friend—his amazing pass reception also works in his favor. My final two picks are a little weirder—and possibly a sign of my poor ability to analyze O-line play. I was on campus at the same time as Richard Fisher; while I was struggling through engineering classes, it was awe-inspiring to see Fisher earn a degree in Civil Engineering while playing on the football team. I have no idea about the fundamentals or techniques of Galas, but he was always such a ferocious fighter on the field.
- TE: It’s a bit tough with so few candidates due to the Bear Raid style, so I’ll go with Anthony Miller for scoring the game-winning touchdown in the 2008 Emerald Bowl as a freshman.
- WR: On the flip side of the Bear Raid issue, there were so many great wide receivers during that era that it’s difficult for any one to stand out. Bryce Treggs for his speed and consistency? Kenny Lawler for his hands and that endzone fade? Maurice Harris for the one-hand catch? Since there were no standouts among that amazing crew, I’ll have to look elsewhere. DeSean Jackson for his electrifying speed, punt returns, and being the first Cal superstar to really stun me as a fan; Marvin Jones for his sticky fingers and his highlight reel of spectacular catches; and Keenan Allen for being the best athlete on the field.
- DL: The wobble rules of the All-You come into play since I don’t have a true defensive tackle/nose guard here. Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan were game-changing talents and stars on their teams. I’ll add on Rulon Davis, the ex-Marine who braved a terrible motorcycle injury to return to the field.
- LB: I’m very tempted to just name the linebacking crew from 2008 as they were so effective on the field and complemented each other so well. My choices will be Zack Follett as a pass-rushing terror and seemingly being the heart of the team. Mike Mohamed, the Big Game hero who could play any of the four positions in a 3–4. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks. My fourth pick is perhaps the least-heralded, but I’ll go with Devante Downs; watching his transformative performance for his senior year as the team’s philosophy shifted from all-offense to a defensive focus was special; Downs was having an all-conference year before his unfortunate injury.
- CB: The easy choice is Syd’Quan Thompson, the definition of a shut-down corner who was a sure tackler, but also skilled at breaking up and picking off passes. I struggled to think of a corner to start opposite Syd, but I’ll go with Darian Hagan for some pretty effective performances against some of the Pac-12’s better receivers. As a sidenote, I could easily see Camryn Bynum earn a spot on my team if he keeps improving.
- FS/SS: Marcus Ezeff for his game-saving fumble against Oregon; plus, he came from another high school in my hometown in the same graduating class as me. In addition, I’ll name Chris Conte for finding his forte as a safety in Clancy Pendergast’s debut year as defensive coordinator and helping shut down the National Championship–contending Oregon Ducks.
- K: Tempted to name Giorgio Tavecchio for being a fan favorite with that trademark twist. Still, I’ll officially go with Matt Anderson as a consistent, reliable option and all-time leading scorer for the Bears.
- P: Bryan Anger was a gift to the fans. A true banger, he had a punt in the Big Game that literally rolled to the goal line, which earned this spot.
Sam Fielder: I didn’t really have people for every position, but here’s some of my fave Cal players.
- QB: Troy Taylor. I started going to Cal games in 1987 with my dad and Troy was the QB. As a 6-year-old, that was enough for me and over the next three years, every game I went to, he was the QB and my favorite. I remember playing in the backyard and pretending to be Troy, throwing my Nerf football as far and as high as I could. He’ll never go down in history as the best Cal QB, but he’ll always be the Cal QB of my childhood and the first Cal Bear player I loved.
- RB: Russell White. In 1991, Cal either sent my dad a poster or we got one at a game. I don’t remember how I got it, but I know there was one of those promo posters with the schedule on it and Russell White was the featured offensive player on the poster. He hung on my closet door for a couple of years and put a huge season that year—worthy of all of the hype he got both in the press and in my mind.
- WR: DeSean Jackson. In 2007, I was living in the heart of SEC country and when the wizard of returns was doing his thingm I was telling everyone I knew how much better Cal was than Alabama (laughable now, but for 8 weeks in 2007, it was so true). He was electrifying to watch and so much fun.
- DL: Chidi Ahanotu. At several games in various years in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s I received Cal Bears football playing cards courtesy of Smokey the Bear. Chidi was in one of those sets and I really liked his name so I always rooted for him to do well. He went on to play for the Tampa Bay Bucs, which just happened to be the home team when my family moved to FL in 1993. I always stayed a fan.
- LB: Zack Follett. From his hit on Erik Ainge to his tiger-striped hair, I loved everything about Zack. For me, he embodied those Cal defenses of the middle ‘00s. Unsung, but solid as they come and a little bit of a nasty streak.
- K: My wife would be mad at me if I didn’t pick Matt Anderson here. When we ran into him and another Cal player outside a Warriors game at BART and talked to them, I asked her after the fact if she knew who we had just talked to. When I explained that was the Cal kicker, she said “Oh, I thought I recognized that great hair.” He’s pretty dreamy, so he gets a spot here.
Attila LS Gero: The best Cal running backs I watched were CJ Anderson and Jahvid Best. They were pretty similar runners in my opinion. Best and Anderson both ran with a lot of power and balance. As good as Jared Godd played, I thought Davis Webb was just as good as a Cal passer. He posted similar stats in the same offense his senior year and was a day two NDL draft pick.
- QB: Kyle Boller. The best Cal quarterback I have ever seen was Aaron Rodgers bar none, but Kyle Boller was the first good Cal quarterback I ever watched and he holds a high honor in my memory. The guy had an absolute cannon and while his draft stock was unreasonably-high, I credit him with teaching me that Cal football didn’t always have to be about losing.
- RB: JJ Arrington. Another back who goes completely unforgotten, but my goodness was JJ incredible back in 2004. 2,000+ yards rushing, 7 yards per carry, 15 touchdowns and an additional 100+ receiving yards. AND HE DIDN’T WIN PAC-12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR. As underrated as anyone in the history of college football and that 2004 season was the most fun I have ever had as a young budding Cal fan.
- WR: Geoff McArthur . With the evolution of Aaron Rodgers came Geoff McArthur’s rise to prominence—he was about as incredible as they come. 1,500+ receiving yards and 10 touchdowns without the benefit of a bowl game due to a broken arm.
- TE: Tony Gonzalez. I think this is the obvious pick here and I know I watched him at the age of roughly 7 or 8; however, my memories are non-existent. The film I have watched solidifies this pick.
- DL: Brandon Mebane. Another classic stalwart from the early Tedford era who never got the hype he deserved while in school. He was far and away the best defensive player in EA’s NCAA Football. Honorable mention: Cam Jordan. Three-star recruit out of high school and as dynamic of a playmaker as any we have seen.
- LB: Devante Downs. We waited four years for him to come along and boy was the payoff great. He still has the smallest of sample sizes, but the story will always stand out and the way he seemingly saw the play unfolding before anyone else on the field was magical. Honorable mention: Desmond Bishop
- DB: Deltha O’Neal. Deltha was my favorite player growing up. A ballhawk corner who could return kicks and was dynamic with the ball in his hands.
- K: Ryan Longwell. I could be totally wrong on this, but I believe Ryan Longwell held the school points record or some kind of award for awhile before being broken. Honorable mention: Giorgio Tavecchio. You will never meet a nicer, more humble person than this man
We’re clearly just a group of young guns here, so our list has skewed greatly to recent players. Let us know who’s on your list and hopefully we can gain some insight into the older players.