Semi-Charmed Life

Five weeks ago, Brock Mansion was the third-string quarterback. Now, he's the latest in a line of beleaguered Cal starters.

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Evan Walbridge/Illustration



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Twenty million eyes watched as Colt McCoy landed on a pile of burnt orange and crimson red, projecting hopes and dreams too heavy for the Texas quarterback's right arm to bear as it hung limp in the cool January air.

Two were fixed intently from a couch in Plano, Texas, over 1,400 miles east of the BCS Championship in Pasadena. Cal quarterback Brock Mansion, then still treading at third-string, flashed back to the day he turned down Mack Brown for a school he'd known almost nothing about.

"I was like, 'Oh man, I could be playing in the national championship right now.'"

Ten months later, it was Kevin Riley whose collegiate career ended, Oregon State haunting him one last time as he hit the Corvallis turf. This time, Mansion was thrown into the game after less than a week as the official backup.

It was loud that Saturday, he remembers.

"I didn't even know he was hurt at first because I was watching the play progress," Mansion says. "All of a sudden I got three or four hands on my shoulders, whipping me around. I'm like 'What? Oh, okay.' No time to think about what was going on at all. Just kind of complete shock. It was like direct tunnel vision to the center ...

"I didn't even realize I played until like Monday morning after when we watched the film."

***

This isn't a Cinderella story. In four games of action, Mansion has completed less than half his passes and doesn't own a meaningful touchdown. He's been victimized by Oregon and Stanford - which, admittedly, are two of the best teams in the country. There's no feel-good ending in sight because Brock Mansion, three starts into his career, has not looked like a good quarterback.

He's shown glimpses of what could be. He has a cannon of an arm, if not the touch to fully control it. He can scramble out of broken plays, even if he's sometimes hesitant about when he should or shouldn't tuck and run.

There is also a constant, guileless enthusiasm about him, one that's likely helped him endure those ups and downs through the depth chart. Words tumble out of his mouth quickly, soaked with the infectious effusiveness of Pop Warner kids. You can't help but like him, to root for him even if you know better.

"I've got a picture of him when he was in third grade putting his football uniform on for the first time," says his father, Hans. "You know, putting the helmet on, his pads and standing out in front of the house to take his picture with his uniform on. And he just thought that was the best thing, getting that helmet and everything. Had the biggest smile on his face.

"I wish I could show you that picture."

That uniform doesn't fit him anymore, although the smile still does.

***

The junior now stands at a statuesque 6-foot-6, his 232 pounds wrapped around his frame as if the football gods crafted him to be QB1. A three-sport high school athlete - football, basketball, baseball - he was gifted with tailor-made genes. The son of a Texas Tech tight end, the grandson of a German Olympic soccer player. Even as a child, he was always bigger than everyone else.

And so the letters poured in, littered with names of big-time powerhouses. Texas. Oklahoma. Alabama. Ole Miss. Wisconsin.

The Bears? He didn't even know they played in the Pac-10.

"I didn't know anything about Cal, to tell you the truth," Mansion says. "I had no idea there was a Big Game, like the Big Game ... That clip you always see on ESPN of the Play, it never rang bells that that was Cal. So when I came out here, I just had a huge, like, 'Wow, whoa, I had no idea!'"

He took a visit because, hey, he'd never been to California before.

And so there he was, standing by the west wall at the top Memorial Stadium, one of the greatest vantage points on this side of the bay's blue waters.

The region's full splendors are laid out here like a gourmet spread - the Campanile to whet your appetite, the San Francisco skyline the hearty main dish, the rolling hills of Marin County the sweet dessert.

"One of the coolest things ever," he calls it.

"He wasn't off that plane an hour before he was telling Jeff (Tedford), 'I'm staying, I'm coming here,'" his father says. "He called me on the phone and I could hear him hooping, hollering back there."

A later push from the Longhorns - which had just been spurned by John Brantley, now the starting quarterback at Florida - was rebuffed. Mansion had no plans to renege on his word.

But even those breathtaking views can hold some stomach-turning surprises. And for Mansion, the dark clouds weren't far off.

His father, who convinced him to transfer high schools for a more pass-heavy offense, drew up a blueprint for him as he headed west.

"He'd go in there with the mentality like, 'You're the guy. From the first day,'" he says. "What he doesn't know is the freshmen don't get reps in fall camp. So like, 'Yeah, Dad. I'm acting like the guy. Just don't have any reps.'"

He enjoyed his scout-team run nonetheless, soaking in the simple opportunity to throw the football. The following fall, he had what he thought was one of his best fall camps. That was 2009, when Riley earned his first full year as the starter.

The disappointment likely carrying over, Mansion dropped behind now-sophomore Beau Sweeney to third-string. He stayed there for the better part of the next year.

"I stuck with it. I prepared as much as I could, but there was just something that wasn't there," Mansion says. "And then I got moved down to No. 3, I was just like, 'Oh man, wow. This is a pretty humbling experience.'"

He describes his quick turnaround into the starting spot as "just the reverse."

***

It's been a long time since Cal has sent a quarterback off gracefully. Joe Ayoob could barely fit into half of Aaron Rodgers' shoes before being ushered out the door. Nate Longshore filed in one brilliant season before a bone spur and jeering fans sank him.

And in Kevin Riley, Mansion follows perhaps the most maligned figure in recent program history.

There aren't many shots left to make an impression. Next spring, Berkeley will open up its most unpredictable quarterback competition yet, and he'll fight to avoid the fate of his predecessors.

He welcomes it, in part because he hasn't known life here any other way.

"You're always on your toes, you're always cautious, you're always absorbing things, making sure you're sharp," he says. "I wouldn't want anything else, especially since I've never had a fall camp or spring where I haven't been competing."

Maybe he'll win in the end. Maybe he won't.

Tags: BROCK MANSION, CAL FOOTBALL


Jack Wang covers football. Contact him at [email protected]



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