Gold StandardSo Much Has Been Said About Mychal Kendricks. For the Cal Linebacker, So Much More Needs to Be Done.
Mychal KendricksCal sophomore Mychal Kendricks talks about his drive to be one of the Bears' best-ever linebackers.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Category: Sports > Fall > Football
Just go out and make a difference.
It's that simple for Mychal Kendricks.
Every time the Cal linebacker steps foot on the field, that is the only thought running through his mind.
"If you make a difference, people notice you," Kendricks says.
It's a message that was instilled in him by his father when he was younger and continues to reverberate today.
Somewhere along the way, however, it became more complicated. Making a difference on the football field turned into living up to his seemingly endless potential.
For years, people have raved about how the 6-foot, 230-pound Fresno native has all the skills necessary to become a great football player. Speed, strength, explosiveness, intangibles-Kendricks has all of these in spades.
The bar has been set so high for Kendricks that it's easy to forget he's still just a sophomore.
At the end of Kendricks' freshman year, former Bears linebacker Worrell Williams declared that he believed Kendricks could be "the best linebacker to ever come out of Cal."
While flattered by the statement, Kendricks still hasn't grown quite accustomed to all the hype that has followed him since he first started playing football.
"I'm scared of failing and not meeting people's expectations," says Kendricks. "I don't want to let anybody down. I don't want to let myself down."
Williams had no intention of putting extra pressure on his "little brother" when he made the statement. It was just something he honestly believed in, and still does to this day.
"I saw tremendous athletic ability that even he didn't understood he had," Williams says. "He's so explosive, so strong, and so versatile, so I was looking at that aspect. If he just gets down the mental part, he'll be a freak of nature."
Through five games this season, it appears that Kendricks may be starting to fulfill Williams' prophecy. He is the leading tackler in the Pac-10 with 9.2 per game and has given little ammunition to those who were ready to write off this season's inexperienced linebacking corps. And while there has undoubtedly been growth in his physical skills, Kendricks is also beginning to show signs of a leader.
The time isn't now, but eventually he will have to assume that role, and when he does, it will be a day that many saw coming long ago. As a sophomore in high school, Kendricks was registering more tackles than the seniors. This happened even though Kendricks had never played football before.
When linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson went to recruit Kendricks, he immediately saw the raw athleticism in the Hoover High standout.
"Athletically, he's really special," says Thompson. "That's what made us recruit him. You saw a guy running around and being a playmaker."
In Kendricks' opinion, the playmaking ability stems from his inherent love for the game. Even though he went to Bullard Talent, a middle school that grades students primarily on arts, Kendricks always knew he would be playing football one day.
His love for the game is so strong that he finds himself at a loss for words when trying to describe the role football plays in his life.
"It gives me chills when I come through that tunnel ... I can't even explain what football is to me," Kendricks says. "It's life, as of right now."
Football consumes Kendricks so much that he says he turns into a completely different person on the field. Many players have made this claim before, but when Kendricks describes the type of person he is off the field, it's clear that the person wearing number 30 on Saturdays is not the same specimen.
"Off the field, I'm goofy and outgoing," he says. "Talking to me, I think I can entertain people and have a good time, because you can't take life too seriously."
So how does Kendricks become that tough-as-nails bulldozer on the field?
Some may say that this metamorphosis was inevitable. The son of a former UCLA tailback, Kendricks has football in his blood. In addition, his brother helped coach his high school team. So it's no surprise that his exposure to the arts couldn't take him away from the game. But Kendricks doesn't see it that way.
"People have influenced me to play this sport, but whether or not they did, I would have ended up playing," he says.
Perhaps it's just desire. It's the desire to provide a better lifestyle for his family. Kendricks noted how his younger brother and sister are getting bigger each time he visits home and does not want his mom to ever have to work double shifts again.
It's the desire to maximize the opportunity he dreamed about for years.
And, above all, it's the desire to show that it wasn't a mistake for all those people to have tossed around words such as "greatness" alongside his name.
Still, Kendricks knows that his development is in its beginning stages. To him, all the talk has been unwarranted. Only time will tell if he truly is the player many have made him out to be.
"I want to be the best, but you can't just talk about it, you got to be about it," Kendricks says. "I haven't done anything yet, I haven't reached my potential. There's so much more I can get better at everyday, and it's whether I want to put in the work to do it, and I want to."
Contact Jimmy Tran at [email protected]
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