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USC Will Face a Mudslinger in Cal's Vedder

College football: Bears' new quarterback not afraid to get dirty, or do what it takes to lead team to victory.


Quarterback Justin Vedder knows one thing with absolute conviction. The California Bears are going bowling this season.

Rose, Cotton, Holiday, Sun, Aloha?

"Albany Bowl," said Vedder, the irrepressible new leader of the Bears who has his teammates hooked on Tuesday night bowling. "It's a couple of miles from campus."

Even if Vedder had said the Bears are going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1959, you'd almost have to listen.

Two seasons ago, after Saddleback College's final game, Vedder went on a local cable sports show and announced the Gauchos would go undefeated and win the national championship the next year.

Saddleback Coach Bill Cunerty swiftly kicked him under the table, but darned if Vedder and the Gauchos didn't pull it off.

Throw in six victories down the stretch from the season before and add Cal's 2-0 start going into Saturday's game against USC, and Vedder hasn't lost in his last 19 games.

So, Justin, an undefeated season for Cal . . . after being picked ninth in the Pacific 10 Conference?

"I don't predict we'll go 11-0, but I don't expect to lose any games," he said. "I believe I should win every game I play in. I don't expect to lose."

Cal got off to a 5-0 start last season and then lost six of its next seven games, along with quarterback Pat Barnes, the conference's leading passer.

Faced with replacing Barnes, Cal went looking for a junior college quarterback and ended up with Vedder, who has come through in a pinch, passing for 287 yards a game and five touchdowns already, though he has thrown three interceptions.

The Bears are still relatively untested after victories over Houston and Oklahoma, but Vedder and senior Bobby Shaw, the conference's top receiver last season, have formed a dangerous liaison. Shaw has 22 catches for 362 yards and four touchdowns and is leading the nation in catches and yardage per game.

"Justin Vedder was a guy that we felt we needed to have," said Cal Coach Tom Holmoe, who replaced Steve Mariucci after he was named coach of the San Francisco 49ers. "We lost Pat Barnes and the next available player would have been a redshirt freshman. We had to go out and get a junior-college player, and Justin was the guy we decided on. We're happy we did because he's brought in a level of maturity that's aided the team. He's very conscientious about his role, he's a leader, he loves the game, and he's very passionate about football.

"Physically, people have overlooked him because he wasn't the prototypal pro quarterback. But I like him. I like him a lot."

Everybody seems to.

"He has such an infectious personality," said Cunerty, his coach at Saddleback. "In high school, then with us, and now with Cal, guys just like to hang out with him. He's such a clean-living guy. If you've got eight guys, he'd say, 'Let's have a bowling tournament.' We had golf tournaments that set the game back 20 years."

Clean-living, perhaps. Play is a different matter.

A couple of years ago after a December rain, Vedder and some pals went out on a sloppy field at his alma mater, Laguna Hills High.

"That was the Mud Bowl," Vedder said. "We completely destroyed the whole field and the high school pool, because after we played we jumped in. It was black for three or four days.

"I know they didn't know who did it at first," he said. "I guess they do now."

Bowling might not be quite as much fun, but Vedder and Shaw, the leaders on the field, are the leaders at the lanes as well.

"We both kind of came to the conclusion that it was important for the team to have fun together," said Shaw, who is part of the dollar-a-game Tuesday night crowd and performs a "strike-dance" when he beats Vedder.

"We really clicked from the beginning," Shaw said. "Things like that carry over on the field and help you get to know someone a lot faster. . . . When something's not quite right on the field, it can be corrected faster."

At 6 feet and 190 pounds, Vedder's first option from Laguna Hills High was Boston University. When he found himself out of the picture there, he transferred home to Saddleback.

He doesn't have size, but he has other qualities that are more difficult to measure: An understanding of the game, great field vision. . . .

"He's a winner," said USC offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who made the first recruiting calls to Vedder before leaving Cal for USC after last season. "He's won everywhere he's been. He loves the game, he's a competitor, and he does all the things it takes to be a quarterback at this level."

Cunerty still remembers the first recruiting calls.

"I'd tell them we've got a kid who's the best I've ever had," Cunerty said. "They'd ask, 'What about size?' I'd say, 'What about size? Are you recruiting numbers or are you recruiting a great quarterback?' "

Last season, in the bowl victory that earned Saddleback a share of the national championship, Vedder's team was trailing, 26-18, in the fourth quarter. He told Cunerty not to worry.

"He goes, 'Coach, showtime,' and we scored three touchdowns in 1:28," Cunerty said. "It was fabulous."

At Cal, they're hoping a fairly fabulous start won't fall apart against a desperate USC team.

"They played well against Florida State and Washington State--0-2 is kind of deceiving," Vedder said.

"But I think our winning attitude carries over. I found that out at Saddleback. I said it, and they believed it. It's happening here too. They believe we're a program that can win, and that we're the start of a winning tradition."


Who: California

Where: At California

When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

TV: Channel 7

Radio: KLSX-FM (97.1)

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