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Man on a mission

Quarterback Longshore trying to lead Cal to first Rose Bowl berth since 1959

November 04, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — Grab Nate's hand?

That, apparently, is what you do to get on board with California football.

Golden Bears players and Nobel laureates are doing it.

Before Cal's important Pacific 10 Conference game against Oregon last month, quarterback Nate Longshore escorted honorary captain George Smoot to midfield for the pregame coin toss at Memorial Stadium.

Smoot, a Cal professor, had just been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work with imaging the infant universe -- routine stuff, right?

Smoot has a pretty good grasp of the stars, but he wasn't accustomed to being one.

"We're all standing there and I'm like, 'Grab my hand!' " Longshore said he told a nervous Smoot. "It was pretty fun."

You may ask what a nice Mormon is doing at a rowdy, big-bang place such as Cal?

"Having a blast," Longshore said.

This would include:

* Rubbing elbows with very smart people.

* Leading the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.

* Running a state-of-the-art offense under Cal Coach Jeff Tedford's tutelage.

* Leading the nation's No. 10 team against UCLA today at Memorial Stadium.

Longshore isn't soaking up the college experience, he's marinating in it.

"The perception [of Cal] is a bunch of crazy tie-dyed shirts," said Longshore, an American studies major. "The reality is it's just culturally diverse. I don't think anything dominates the other. It's not a crazy place at all. There's liberals, conservatives, there's everything here. I love it, because you get to learn so much about other cultures, other religions, other ways of life."

Longshore is Mormon and a former prep star at Canyon Country Canyon High, where he closely charted the course of UCLA quarterback Ben Olson, then a star at Thousand Oaks High.

"I was a sophomore and he was a senior," Longshore said. "He was No. 1 in country, so any time I got a chance to watch, I watched."

Olson, also a Mormon, was the nation's top-rated quarterback out of high school. Olson committed to Brigham Young but, after a redshirt season and a church mission, he transferred to UCLA.

Longshore wrestled with the mission issue before he committed to Cal.

He and Tedford came to an understanding:

"If he was playing and he had a future here, as a strong contributor, then he'd stay and play," Tedford said. "If not, he'd probably go on his mission. So, obviously, he's been a very strong contributor."

Longshore says he will complete his mission someday -- he just doesn't know when. A potential NFL career could forestall his plans.

Longshore's brother spent two years in the Philippines and it's an opportunity Nate doesn't want to miss.

"I will definitely serve the church some day," he said.

For now, Longshore is trying to lead Cal football to what, before the Tedford era, might have been deemed mission impossible.

Cal, at 5-0 in conference, controls its Pac-10 destiny as it seeks its first Rose Bowl berth since 1959.

Longshore has emerged as the team's happy-go-deep leader. He plays with almost a childlike joy, seemingly unburdened by the pressures of his position.

"He brings a combination of serious and levity at the same time," Tedford said.

Longshore is a fan of college football, likes talking about the Bowl Championship Series scenarios and budding controversies.

"I try to go [online] on ESPN once or twice a week, just to check the stories," he said.

He playfully leaves two tickets for Jessica Simpson for each Cal home game in the hope the pop singer will take the hint.

"There's a lot of pressure in this game, especially on quarterbacks and coaches," Longshore said. "If you let it get to you, it can take the fun out of it. It is just a game ... it doesn't define who I am."

Longshore says his game unfolds around him in a church-like calm.

"As soon as play starts, I can't hear anything," Longshore said. "Someone could be next to me screaming. Just like the movies, it goes silent. I can't hear anything except myself thinking. It's pretty crazy. Then as soon as I throw the ball, or get hit or whatever, it gets loud again and I've got to listen for the crowd to cheer."

Or boo.

There has been a lot of growing up to do.

After a redshirt season, Longshore won the starting job last year over Joe Ayoob before suffering a season-ending broken leg in Cal's opener against Sacramento State.

Last spring, Longshore was jolted by the sudden death of his father. It was Tedford who broke the news and drove Longshore to the airport.

The first game Longshore played after that was the Tennessee debacle. Cal, ranked No. 9 in the preseason, went to Knoxville on Sept. 2 and got embarrassed.

After completing only 11 of 20 passes for 85 yards in that game, Longshore was replaced by Ayoob, who passed and ran for Cal's only two touchdowns in a 35-18 loss.

"The good thing about it is we never wavered in our confidence of Nate and Nate never wavered in his own confidence," Tedford said of the Tennessee game. "He really didn't have any reason to."

Longshore took from Tennessee what he could.

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