Monday, October 6, 2008

Sure-handed Cunningham grabs a big role in Cal's offfense

(I've posted my article about Cal wide receiver LaReylle Cunningham that appeared in the Bears' football program for Saturday's game against Arizona State. Cunningham used his sure hands Saturday to catch three passes for 42 yards, including a sweet 19-yard score where he had to go low to grab Nate Longshore's toss. He now has 14 catches for a team-high 223 yards. He ranks first among receivers in catches and is tied for third overall, one behind tight end Cameron Morrah and running back Shane Vereen, the co-leaders.)

Former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor’s eyes are naturally drawn to any wide receiver who catches passes as if his hands were covered with Stickum.

Taylor said he spotted LaReylle Cunningham’s sure hands the first time he watched him during a training camp practice in 2005.

“I saw him catch the ball and was like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ ” said Taylor, Cal’s football radio analyst.

That guy, Taylor found out, was a walk-on from Fairfield’s Vanden High School. He came to Cal with no guarantee of ever seeing the field in a game. But those good hands helped Cunningham grab a spot on the team, earn a football scholarship last spring and win a starting job this fall as a redshirt senior.

“I’ve always had the ability to catch the ball wherever it’s thrown,” said Cunningham. “I guess it was just natural.”

Cunningham had a breakout game against Maryland three weeks ago, catching seven passes for 138 yards, both career highs. But for most of Cunningham’s career at Cal, he’s been relegated to putting on pass-catching clinics in practice. He red-shirted in 2004 then was stuck behind the talented DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan for most of the past three seasons.

The one exception came on Oct. 22, 2005, when injuries struck Cal’s receiver corps and Cunningham took center stage as an emergency starter. Cunningham caught five passes for 112 yards in a 42-38 victory over Washington State that night at Memorial Stadium. His 57-yard touchdown catch keyed Cal’s comeback win.

The next week against Oregon, however, Cunningham was back on the bench.

“If anything, it made me hungrier,” Cunningham said of his first career start.
“It made me more motivated to keep working hard, (knowing) that my number can be called at any time, and when it is, I’ll be there to make plays and do what I came to do. If my role is a backup, then I’ll just do the best I can being a backup.”

Cunningham said he had no “set in stone” football scholarship offers from any college coming out of high school. That made his decision to walk on at Cal easy.
“I just kind of had my mind set on Cal,” Cunningham said. “My mother (Adrienne Cunningham) really wanted me to come here to Cal because it’s a great university. I was able to get in through academics. It all worked out good.
“I was taught well. Always, school (came) first. Thanks to my mother. She sent me on the right path.”

Now he’s taking the final class he needs to graduate with a degree in sociology.
On the football field, Cunningham caught just 10 nine passes for 155 yards and one touchdown during his first three seasons after red-shirting.

Even so, Cal coach Jeff Tedford thought so much of Cunningham that he awarded him a scholarship last spring. With Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan no longer blocking his path, Cunningham moved up the depth chart by catching everything that came his way in spring practice and training camp.

“They’re ridiculous,” Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said of Cunningham’s hands. “If it’s in his vicinity, he’s going to catch it.”
Best hands on the team?

“Oh yeah,” Williams said. “Hands down.”

Cunningham isn’t a speed “burner,” Taylor said, but he has tremendous hand-eye coordination, body control and timing.

“He has obviously had one of the better pairs of hands on the team since he’s gotten here,” Taylor said. “Just real consistent, real smooth.”

Cunningham said he also has a knack for getting open.

“I’m good at getting my body in position to catch the ball,” Cunningham said. "I’m good at getting separation, enough needed to get the ball caught. I’m really good at body position. My routes are decent, too.”

When he played for the Bears, Hawkins liked to work over the middle, while Jackson was most dangerous on deep routes. What’s Cunningham’s preference?

“I like to work the middle, side, top, bottom,” he said. “Anywhere. Wherever the ball is, I like to work it.”

Cunningham said his favorite route is the “fade” in the end zone, where he’s able to “go up top and get it.”

“Or the post (route),” he added. “Anything, really. I just like the ball.”

As you can sense, spending the previous four years without consistently getting his hands on the football has been tough for Cunningham. But he’s persisted and persevered.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Cunningham said. “I’ve definitely been through a lot. It’s been a grind, mentally and physically. Everything’s fine. Everything turned out the way it should be. So I’m happy. I’m fortunate and blessed.”


  1. Great article! I think it's rather unfortunate that Cunningham is not getting his fair share of time on the field. He's definately NFL material! Very strong! It takes more than one guy to take em' down! FOLLOW THIS GUY!!

  2. It's refreshing to know that someone else has seen the strength in Cunningham. The question is why doesn't he get more play time? I was surprised he didn't get time at the USC game. He was strong in Oregon though! I'm looking forward to watching him on Monday nights (NFL) soon.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with you Annonymous. How can Tedford keep such a talented and gifted young man on the side-lines? I know politics play a role in everything anymore, but to keep a talent like Cunningham on the side-lines for almost all of his career is just wrong and somebody should have to answer to that! I believe if given the chance, he'll be in the NFL in 2009.

  4. I believe LaReylle Cunningham was as good as the three receivers that left last year! He didn't get a chance to show it because he was stuck on the sidelines. Why let a kid walk-on to a team and not be willing to play him? Tedford has done a lot for California, but he should be removed as head coach. California could have went to better bowl and a better record, had he played Cunningham and possibly a few others that never get to play!

  5. The USC game was Cal's for the taking and Cunningham would have made a difference. Tedford runs a mickey mouse offense in that he plays it safe and hardly ever takes any chances. If the play breaks, that's it. The QBs don't get to make the call, Tedford does! He has a pretty good team returning next year and I pray he uses his players the right way.

  6. Tedford has a good mind for football, even though he was a quarterback himself, which explains his love for Longshore. What a waste! Longshore isn't NFL material and he won't be. His performance and attitude is just horrible, but yet Tedford tries to find a way to make him out to be a hero. Lets take the Emerald Bowl. Longshore starts, Riley sits. If Miami had 3-5 more minutes of time, they would have won that game! Again, Cunningham on the side lines. Boateng is a weak receiver as is Tucker. Ross and Calvin will be the saviors for Cal next season if Tedford makes them a part of the offense!

  7. I give a lot of credit to Cunningham, unlike Boateng who chose to leave Florida (don't know why)Cunningham stuck it out with Cal and I'm sure he was hoping Tedford would make him a part of the offense more. Not be so, except for the outstanding performance at Maryland and a couple other games. As a senior, he didn't even play in the Emerald Bowl and basically, at home. Coaches like Tedford really need to take a hard look at themselves when they get those outrageous pay checks and ask themselves, "do I really deserve this money?" It's no fun standing on the sidelines for 4 or 5 years!

  8. I'm on the Cunningham bandwagon and I truly wish him well in his future endeavors. Should he decide to turn pro, all 32 teams should seriously consider making him a part of their team. His own teammates accolade his as the best hands receiver on the team! If I were an NFL owner or coach, I would have my sights set on Cunningham. He's not flashy or super fast, he just gets the job done....

  9. Should Cunningham turn pro, he probably won't go until the 5th round and beyond to include FA. This kid will do any NFL team proud. His parents probably have or had knots in their stomachs from him not playing hardly at all in his tenure at Cal. As with other parents, it's not a good feeling and I'm sure they will tell you that and then want the coach's head.

  10. Former QB Troy Taylor, if you have any contacts with any NFL teams (scouts, coaches, etc) you should do what you can to see that they know who LaReylle Cunningham is! This kid is a testament to every hard-working athlete that deserves to play at the next level. Owners pay these 1st rounders all that money and they don't come close to producing, dah, it's professional football and not college anymore. Kids like Cunningham deserve a shot just as much if not more than the 1st or 2nd rounders. He would get paid much less, but would put up the best stats! Give him a chance.

  11. I hear Cunningham has been working out at Elite Athletics in Westlake Village, CA. Good for him. I hope they prepare him for the next level because Tedford and his staff didn't! All 32 NFL teams should be willing to give him a chance to make their teams, he deserves it if nothing else, for putting up with a clown like Tedford for 5 years, not 4 but 5. Good luck Cunningham.

  12. Cal's Pro Day is March 18th and if Cunningham is there, he'll take full advantage of it and leave a very good impression with some NFL teams. 6'2, 206 lbs, strong and fairly quick, not to mention young. He'll bring a lot to the table with a pro team if given the chance. I pray he succeeds and has a successful career in the N.F.L.

  13. I watched the Draft and was highly disappointed that Cunningham's name wasn't called. That leaves Free Agency or the CFL. Tedford could learn a few things from Pete Carroll, all of his players that entered the draft pretty much got selected! What does that tell you Tedford? You are a flaming idiot. I hope all your talent leaves and go to other schools where they will be appreciated and have a better chance at making the NFL. You are seriously a joke and need to quit football.

  14. I think some teams will come around and make him an offer, he really deserves it. I can only imagine what not being drafted is doing to this kid! I checked out a couple of the receivers they drafted in the later rounds and I'm sorry, they don't hold a match to Cunningham. Crabtree is a showboat. Maclin and Heyward-Bey will probably do better than him. Cunningham don't give up on your dream. With God all things are possible, just keep the faith. Some eyes will soon open.

  15. These teams pay players like boldin millions of dollars a year to complain and yet they won't take a chance on a kid obviously younger and got talent as a Free Agent. We are talking millions of dollars less in pay here, and he doesn't even get a look. If he has an agent, he should be fired because he's not doing his job at selling Cunningham. Cunningham stay with it, don't ever give up what you believe in and mostly what you deserve.

  16. NFL Coaches, owners, presidents, etc.. there is a player out there from California, 6'2 and 206lbs and is a football player. His name, LaReylle Cunningham. While you are busy re-negotiating contracts of a bunch of whiners, sign this kid as a free agent and let him play professional football. You want be disappointed. He's worth every penny and then more. He'll prove himself you and the whole world. I dare you!!!!

  17. If I were an owner or coach, I would have taken Cunningham in the 3rd or 4th round. None-the-less, I would have drafted him. You had all them busters at the combine, even some who's numbers aren't even close to Cunningham's, yet you drafted them. I put most of the blame on that knucklehead Tedford. I'm sure at Pro-Day, if the scouts asked him anything about Cunningham, his response was probably anything but positive. Thanks a lot Tedford, for spoiling another kids dreams of making it big after putting up with your mediocre offense for 4 or 5 years. You really deserve that contract extension. If I were a player, I'd be heading south and you know where I'm talking about!! U.S.C.