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Football: Freshmen draw raves from Dykes

A strong day for the newcomers Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Freshmen shined during Cal’s sixth practice of fall camp, led by defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter of Houston and running back Khalfani Muhammad of Sherman Oaks. Linebacker Johnny Ragin of Wilsonville, Ore., also had another strong day, coach Sonny Dykes said.

“Good to see those freshman get a little more comfortable,” Dykes said.

Hunter, a 6-foot-1, 300-pounder, has made a favorable impression more than once during the Bears’ first week of workouts. Same thing with Ragin.

And Dykes said the ultra-quick Muhammad, all 5-foot-8 of him, has a good shot at becoming a first-team kickoff return man.

“That’s phenomenal. I’m ecstatic,” said Muhammad, the two-time defending state high school 100-meter champ, who had a couple nice returns Saturday. “You’ve got to believe to achieve. I just want to come out here and try to get better each day.”

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The offense, which drew criticism from Dykes on Friday, bounced back.

“The energy was better from the start, the focus was better,” he said. “We’ve kind of hit that point during camp where guys start to lose their legs a little bit and everybody becomes a step slower and the execution is not very good.

“We didn’t have a very good mentality yesterday. The mentality on the offense and the defense was a bit better today.”

That doesn’t mean Dykes is much closer to naming a starting quarterback.

He said all three candidates played better Saturday and that the coaching staff would try to further evaluate.

“We’ll see where we go from there, whether it’s name a starter or narrow it down,” he said. Monday’s scrimmage will factor into the equation, but Dykes stressed that the decision won’t be made based on one day’s performance.

“You want to look at the whole body of work. We’ll look at spring, too,” he said.

Asked to project a timetable, he said, “It’s hard to say . . . I wish I knew.”

He said the starter will need and a week-and-a-half of first-team reps, minimum, to prepare for the Aug. 31 opener vs. Northwestern, ideally two weeks.

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Redshirt freshman MLB Hardy Nickerson, getting first-team reps while Nick Forbes rests his back, has scored points with the coaching staff.

“He’s been great,” Dykes said. “He has continued to improve his game. He’s incredibly focused, dedicated, hard-working, ambitious. Guys like that, you want to find a spot for them to play.

“He’s made the most of his opportunity.”

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Starting safety Avery Sebastian missed his second straight practice because of pain from a bone spur in his foot, although he was not in a boot on Saturday. Dykes said he’d probably be back for Monday’s scrimmage.

RB Brendan Bigelow was held out of workouts to give his surgically repaired knee the day off and DE Brennan Scarlett (hand) continues to wear a red jersey.

Freshman DB Trey Cheek came off the field after tweaking his hamstring, a situation that could shelve him for several days, Dykes said.

 

Jeff Faraudo