NEWS that Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson had accepted money for his on-field
performance would have NCAA investigators winging their way toward Berkeley.
But fortunately for Jackson and the Bears, there's no prohibition against
playing for pay when it's a family affair.
The first time
cash changed hands was when DeSean was four years old and playing catch with
his big brother Byron. When Byron noticed that little DeSean was having trouble
holding on to his Nerf-ball tosses, he added a financial incentive, offering
DeSean five dollars if he could hang on to the next throw. DeSean made the
catch, and for the next three years, through DeSean's flag football career, it
seemed that every time Byron put a five-spot on the table, his little brother's
hands were made of glue.
Perhaps as soon as
next year, Jackson will make far more than five dollars to catch footballs
because he just might be the top receiver in the country and could jump to the
NFL. But for at least one more season Jackson, a junior, will be Cal's money
receiver, figuratively speaking. Last fall he caught 59�passes for 1,060
yards and nine touchdowns in a breakout season, but the feeling--or
fear--around the Pac-10 is that Jackson could easily surpass those numbers this
In 2006 he was
adjusting to new quarterback Nate Longshore, who had missed the previous season
with a broken left leg. After a year together Jackson and Longshore are
completely familiar with each other, which should make them even more
dangerous. The presence of seniors Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan, an
additional pair of productive receivers, will also help keep defenses from
concentrating too heavily on Jackson. And with the departure of star tailback
Marshawn Lynch (drafted 12th overall by the Buffalo Bills), Cal figures to
throw the ball more often this season. "All the pieces are in place for us
to have a big-time passing game," Jackson says. "There should be a lot
of balls for everybody. I'm hoping I can add in a few big plays."
Cal is counting on
more than a few, especially since Jackson, who has been timed at 4.3 seconds in
the 40, can be just as dangerous when the ball is kicked to him. Of his seven
touchdowns of 40�yards or longer last year, four were punt returns, of 95,
80, 72 and 65 yards. "The things that set him apart are his instincts and
his vision," says Bears coach Jeff Tedford. "We just try to put him in
as many different positions to use his gifts as we can."
Byron, a former
San Jose State receiver, will be watching DeSean with a mixture of pride and
relief. "Good thing I stopped paying him," Byron says, "or I'd be
broke by now."