With NCAA letter-of-intent day less than three weeks away, UC Davis football coach Ron Gould doubts he’ll have much time to watch Sunday’s NFL conference championship games.
But Gould will sneak a peek now and then because three of his former protégés, all running backs from his 16 seasons as a Cal assistant coach, will suit up Sunday.
Marshawn Lynch is expected to play a key role for the Seattle Seahawks, who will hostthe 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Shane Vereen of the New England Patriots and C.J. Anderson of the Denver Broncos will be on opposite sidelines in the AFC title game in Denver.
“I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to have worked with them,” Gould said. “What a great thing for these young men and their families to see the culmination of all that hard work they’ve put in to result in being able to play in a championship game and to get a shot at going to a Super Bowl.”
Lynch is the most accomplished of Gould’s long line of current and former NFL running backs, which includes J.J. Arrington, Justin Forsett and Jahvid Best.
In seven seasons, first in Buffalo and then in Seattle, Lynch has rushed for 7,389 yards and 58 touchdowns.
Last Saturday, he rushed for a franchise-playoff record 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a clinching 31-yard score with 2:40 left – dubbed “Beast Quake II” – to help the Seahawks beat New Orleans 23-15.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch, nicknamed “Beast Mode” for his powerful running style, often was called “He-Man” by his Cal teammates for his prodigious feats in the weight room.
“Marshawn has amazing natural strength,” Gould said. “Pound for pound, he may be one of the strongest guys I have ever coached.”
While enjoying his third consecutive 1,000-yard-plus season for the NFC West champions, Lynch also has drawn controversy for his longtime unwillingness to talk to the media. His silence ended this month but only because of the NFL’s threat of a $50,000 fine.
“I’m not sure what that’s all about, but knowing Marshawn, he can be a little shy, and he’s not a guy who likes to talk about himself,” Gould said. “It’s all about the team and his teammates. He’s a very humble guy.”
Gould said Lynch has a playful side. The coach remembers Lynch’s valiant performance in a 31-24 overtime win over Washington at Cal in 2006. After playing on two sprained ankles and scoring the winning touchdown for the then-No. 11 Bears, Lynch was nowhere to be found in the locker room after the game.
“We’re celebrating and wondering, ‘Where’s Marshawn?’ ” Gould said. “Turns out he’s on the field driving a cart around like a big kid.”
Lynch commandeered the cart so he could “ghost ride” – a tradition in his native Oakland in which drivers lean horizontally out of their open car doors – but the cart had no doors. So he drove haphazardly across Cal’s artificial turf while the student section roared its approval.
“I could’ve been upset, but all I could do was laugh,” Gould said. “Marshawn was always a super competitor and super talented. But I’m in awe of what he has done in the NFL.”
While Vereen and Anderson are unlikely to have as big an impact as Lynch on Sunday, Gould is just as proud of their accomplishments.
Vereen, a second-round pick by New England in 2011, is rotating with LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in New England’s new, highly successful run-oriented offense that helped decimate Indianapolis 43-22 last weekend. Vereen rushed five times for 17 yards and caught two passes for 16 more against the Colts.
“Shane is blessed with a lot of tools,” Gould said. “I know he was slowed by an injury (groin) for a while, but it looks like he’s coming around.”
Anderson, a rookie free-agent signee from Bethel High School in Vallejo, rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries (a 4.6 average) in Denver’s 10-6 exhibition win over the 49ers last August. He gained 38 yards on seven carries (a 5.4 average) in the regular season. Anderson was activated for last Sunday’s divisional playoff game against San Diego and played but had no carries or receptions.
Gould said Anderson made a big impression on the coach’s nephew, Zach Miller, a Broncos fan who was in Denver for Sunday’s game.
Miller, a sports administration major at Simpson College in Iowa, said he was so shocked that he couldn’t crack a smile when Anderson introduced him to John Elway, a Miller family favorite, after the game.
“That was very thoughtful of C.J. to do that,” Gould said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of very talented young men who have taken the time to give back and never forget where they came from.”
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