There are some strong bloodlines running through the Cal football roster. Quartererback Jared Goff’s father played major league baseball. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr.’s father starred in the NFL.
Placekicker James Langford has bragging right over all of them.
When he lines up for his first field-goal try next Saturday at Northwestern, Langford will have the genealogical backing of Ty Cobb and Harry S. Truman.
Langford, a senior from Pleasanton, figures those genetic connections can’t hurt. “Obviously, they performed under pressure situations as well,” he said.
A third-year transfer from Cal Poly, Langford admitted after Saturday’s final practice of fall camp that he wasn’t sure about his exact relation to the owner of baseball’s highest career batting average or the nation’s 33rd president.
His father Jim confirmed that both Cobb and Truman are direct relations on his side of the family. Cobb is a cousin to James Langford’s great-grandfather on his grandmother’s side, and Truman is cousin to James’ great-grandmother on his grandfather’s side.
Don’t worry, James was confused, too.
“It’s a cool thing being related to all these great people,” he said. “Now that we’re talking about this, I feel like I should know more about it.”
Langford’s primary concern these days is showing he can deliver on game the way he has in fall camp. He got the nod this week as the starter because of improved consistency.
“They wouldn’t allow me to have one bad day,” Langford said. “If I was perfect for three days, then missed two kicks, I’d hear about it.”
Leg strength was never an issue. Langford made a 57-yard field goal in a high school all-star game, a kick he said he’s watched 50 times on YouTube.
Coach Sonny Dykes said he’d feel comfortable letting Langford try from above 50 yards. Langford thinks that’s just a starting point. “I feel pretty good around 60,” he said.
Freshman Luke Rubenzer has won the No. 2 quarterback job behind Jared Goff and has gotten plenty of practice reps showing his skills as a runner. But Dykes said Rubenzer isn’t likely to play at Northwestern.
“I would probably say no,” Dykes said. “Jared’s pretty established.”
Rubenzer, from Scottsdale, Arizona, said he’s generally satisfied with his fall-camp performance and has learned not to fret over things he can’t control. “I’ve done what I wanted to do,” he said.
Provided Goff is productive and healthy, Rubenzer accepts the possibility he could be redshirted.
“If he’s doing well and there’s no reason for me to burn my redshirt, then that’s the way it is,” said Rubenzer, who credited Goff and senior reserve Austin Hinder as being great mentors. “I’ll just come out here every day, practice, have fun, try to get better.”
Sophomores Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson Jr. are likely to share the middle linebacker spot, Dykes said. Freshman Devante Downs has performed well in fall camp, but may see more action on special teams for now.
Redshirt freshman Ray Davison looms as a strong candidate to win one of the outside linebacker spots, opposite returning starter Jalen Jefferson.
Chris Harper caught 111 passes, including seven touchdowns, his first two seasons at Cal, but Dykes said the junior wide receiver has become more consistent and well-rounded during training camp, partly because he’s stayed healthy.
“He’s practiced every day and as a result he’s improved a lot,” Dykes said. “The thing about out offense is you can’t just hope a guy makes a big play occasionally.
“He’s got to make the tough catches on third down, he’s got to block, he’s got to do all the little things right to play receiver in this offense. His biggest thing has just been learning that.”
Former Cal backup quarterback Zach Kline has won the starting job at JC powerhouse Butte College. “It’s awesome,” Kline told the Chico Enterprise-Record. “I’ve gotten better here, leaps and bounds already, which is extraordinarily reassuring for me.”
Butte will begin defense of its state championship Sept. 6 at home against Chabot College.