Football: Can Sofele carry the load?

At last month’s Tiny Award banquet, Cal coach Jeff Tedford was asked by a fan how he is going to determine the No. 1 tailback. His response?

“We have a No. 1 tailback. It’s Isi,” he said.

That came somewhat as a surprise for a couple of reasons. Yes, Isi Sofele was the No. 2 tailback last season, so it does seem logical that he could be next in line to start with Shane Vereen heading off to the NFL. But unlike Vereen, Sofele didn’t get much action as a backup.

Sofele carried the ball just 69 times for 338 yards as a sophomore last season. Compare that to Vereen, who carried it 183 times in 2009 (although the last four games were as a starter). In 2008, when he started just one game, he still carried it 142 times as the backup to Jahvid Best.

Tedford has made a habit of giving his backup running backs significant playing time, but that wasn’t the case with Sofele last season.

Also, there are questions about Sofele’s size and if he can withstand the pounding that comes with being a featured back. Sofele is just 5-foot-7, 188 pounds. But he is strong for his size and clearly has the explosiveness that appeals to Tedford.

It will be interesting to see how much other backs get the chance to contest Sofele for the No. 1 job. One of the reasons why Tedford may be so definitive right now with Sofele is because of all of the other health concerns with his othe returning tailbacks. Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson, Dasarte Yarnway and Trajuan Briggs each are recovering from injuries. And while DeBoskie-Johnson is expected to be at full strength by the time spring practice begins later this month, Yarnway is out for the spring as he continues to rehab from an ACL surgery. Briggs’ status for the spring is uncertain.

So Sofele may not get pushed too much during the spring. That will give him another edge once fall camp comes around. Incomng tailbacks C.J. Anderson, Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco might be in the mix if health concerns persists. Anderson is a JC transfer who may be more college-ready while Bigelow, who is recovering from two significant  injuries to his knee, is regarded as having superstar talent if he is healthy.

But Sofele could put himself in a pretty favorable position after spring practice.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.


  1. What about Darren Ervin? Is he changing positions already?

  2. Ervin will be a CB. The RB corps will likely look like:
    Healthy: Sofele, DeBoskie-Johnson, Lasco, Anderson
    Playable: Yarnway, Briggs
    Redshirt to rehab: Bigelow

    Bigelow is going to be a beast, no sense in rushing him when Anderson is more than capable and only has 2 years of elibility (3 to play 2). Lasco is going to be a horse, pure runner and could probably use his freshman year effectively if needed.

  3. Scotty, Ervin will play running back but will also see time at receiver. He won’t be the kind of player that will be in position to be the every-down back. The Bears hope to use him in special situations, whether it be the Wildcat or other instances where they can maximize his versatility.

  4. Thanks JO. Sounds like we have several great options for many years to come. I was looking forward to Yarnway unleashing the beast through the line, but it sounds like he’s unlikely to get a healthy start up the depth chart.

  5. Jan, you’re right. I went back and re-read my notes from one of the Cal recruiting events with Coach Thompson. Coach T confirmed that Ervin will play RB, and is a Vick-type athlete who has a great arm, and can be very shifty and agile when running. Early thinking from Coach T is that he will run the Wild(bear).

  6. Oski; Nice thread
    reads like spring practice, with coaches available??

  7. IMO, it’s a waste of time to practice the wildbear.
    When will these coaches get it in their head that football is a game of repetition and that you need to practice the basic plays until they become second nature. The wildbear is just a waste of effort and a formation that has seen it’s time long gone and become totally ineffective.

  8. Who starts @ RB isn’t the important issue. Who’s gonna’ be under center is the number 1 concern. We’ve got 7 qb’s on scholarship. Manison & Sweeney have proven they’re not the answer. Of the remaining 5, only one has game experience – at Buffalo. Can any of these guys complete a pass on 3rd & 6 to keep a drive alive ? Who knows ? Maybe we’ll find out aga. Presbyterian. Who else but my Bears could sch. a game aga. a church who’s nickname is The Blue Hose.

  9. “We have a No. 1 tailback. It’s Isi,”

    I don’t like the sound of this.

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