More powerful than a locomotive

More powerful than a locomotive

After Will Taufoou had broken one tackle and dragged three more defenders for a 14-yard gain early in the fourth quarter of Cal's 45-27 win over Arizona, a hush fell over the Memorial Stadium crowd of 56,021 as the big fullback struggled to get back up. He'd missed much of fall camp with a sprained knee and as he walked off the field, it appeared that he might have reinjured it.

Taufoou walked around for a little while, tested his knee, walked around some more and kept walking until four plays later he finally found himself standing next to head coach Jeff Tedford.

"Coach, I'm ready."

With that, the junior fullback from San Carlos went jogging back onto the field as part of the Bears' short yardage package.  On a 2nd-and-goal from the Arizona 3, as running back Justin Forsett took the direct snap, Taufoou scythed down Wildcat linebacker Spencer Larsen, clearing an easy path for Forsett, who scored his second touchdown of the game to put the Bears up 45-27.

While one wouldn't have faulted him if he wanted to play it safe and sit out the rest of the game, sometimes pragmatism takes a back seat to duty, and the sense of responsibility toward's one's teammates takes precedence over physical issues.

"I really wanted to finish up the drive," said Taufoou.

His touchdown-springing block capped a strong afternoon for Taufoou who made his presence felt as blocker, runner, and even a decoy. 

After he easily blasted through the Arizona defense for four yards on a 3rd-and-1 deep in Arizona territory, the Wildcats wanted to guard against it on a 3rd-and-goal from the Arizona 1.  As Longshore faked the handoff, most of the Wildcat defense converged on the middle, allowing Jahvid Best to take a toss from quarterback Nate Longshore and score an easy touchdown.

But right after coming back on the field to make his key block, Taufoou went over to the sidelines, took off his helmet and pads and sat atop an equipment cart with a sweatshirt pulled over his head.

One of the hardest moments for any athlete are those first few minutes after a knee injury. Besides the pain, there's the uncertainty of whether it's a major injury or a minor injury, whether it's something that'll get better in a few days or a few months.

As he sat, Zack Follett came by to cheer him up, followed by Anthony Felder, and then Brian Holley. Taufoou was well enough to walk off the field under his own power and carry his equipment with him.

The good news is that after having it checked out, Taufoou's knee has no major damage; but he has an injured PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) that will be evaluated day-to-day.

The 6-foot, 253-pound fullback has won the hearts of many Cal fans with his rugged running and blocking.  Although the fullback doesn't get many ball carries in the Bear offense, Taufoou's proven to be effective not just as a short-yardage runner, but also a receiver as well.

Against Tennessee, he turned a short run after a catch into a helmet-flying, Hefney-crying, boy-you-ain't-lying colllision that had reverberations that could be felt as far away as football@lsu.edu.

"I was carrying the ball, and I was close to the sideline," said Taufoou. "I couldn't pick out one guy and I couldn't make a move, so I just put my head down and ran. I didn't even know somebody's helmet came off until later."

The play put a charge into an already electric atmosphere, and if one play from the game answered the question of whether Pac-10 teams could play physical football, that was it.

"I heard a 'oooooohhh' and then heard a lot of talk between the teams," said Taufoou, adding about the run, "The team expects that stuff from me."

Playing as a linebacker and fullback for St. Francis High, Taufoou was the 2003 West Catholic Athletic Player of the Year and was also named to the San Francisco Chronicle's all-defense team.  Taufoou also played rugby with the Silicon Valley Club, which earned him the attention of two coaching staffs on campus.

"I was recruited by both the football and the rugby team," said Taufoou, who's majoring in sociology and ethnic studies. "I was also recruited by Portland State and other Pac-10 schools, but in my junior year, I had foot surgery so that might have scared some teams off.  Cal wanted to give me a chance."

In previous camps going into this fall, Taufoou's been impressive as both a runner and blocker. He missed much of fall camp due to a sprained knee, but he wasn't set back for very long.

"With my injury I wasn't expecting much during the first few games," said Taufoou.  But I've gotten treatment, gone through rehab, and things have improved."

Asked which part of the game he finds more enjoyable; running or blocking, Taufoou is diplomatic in his answer.

"Everyone likes running the ball and gaining a few yards," he said. "But whether it's running or blocking, I like the opportunity to make plays. Anytime I can open a hole for Justin, it feels good to see him running past."

As a blocker, Taufoou has objectives. Talking about his blocks that helped Forsett to his two touchdowns, a lot more is involved than just hitting the first guy you see.

"I always try to clear the way and get my guy completely out of the hole," said Taufoou. "Hopefully, this will give the runner an angle to get through."

While the Bears struggled with short-yardage running at times last year, that aspect has been much improved this year, partly because in addition to Forsett, Cal's been able to augment it's attack with the power of Taufoou and the speed of Best.

Taufoou's also been a weapon on a delayed pass coming out of the backfield.  Next to DeSean Jackson or Best in an open field, watching Taufoou run with a head of steam has to be one of the more frightening parts of the Cal offense that a defender has to worry about.

"I look to see where the blockers are and try to keep my pads down," said Taufoou. "The defensive backs always want to go low on you. Everything happens so fast out there, sometimes you never know when you might have to make a move."

And yes, he said "make a move" with a straight face, which is odd coming from someone whose runs have the subtlety of a rhinoceros.

"Hey, you gotta mix it up. Sometimes you go hard and then take a quick side step."

Taufoou was part of the 2004 recruiting class, redshirted his first year and then saw primarily special teams action as a redshirt freshman.  He played in all 13 games last season, seeing duty as fullback and specal teams, and making his first start in the 2006 Holiday Bowl.

Since coming to Berkeley, the process of retooling himself  and helping his game evolve has been gradual but rewarding.

"I've worked on becoming an all-around player," said Taufoou, who relaxes by listening to Bob Marley. "I've been working on my catching, my running technique, and both my run blocking and pass blocking. (Running backs) coach (Ron) Gould has really worked with me on picking up blitzes, watching for the defensive end, and helping me keep my feet moving."


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