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September 28, 2007
Undersized Forsett brings big game
Video Preview | Head-to-Head Breakdown
Justin Forsett's size indicates he can't handle the grind of carrying a team's rushing attack.
His statistics tell an entirely different story.
Forsett (5 feet 8, 196 pounds) has averaged 168.3 rushing yards the six times in his career he has received more than 15 carries. This season, he ranks 14th in the nation in rushing (121.0 ypg) and has prevented California's rushing attack from slipping a notch after losing Marshawn Lynch, the No. 12 pick in April's NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
California and Oregon are best known for their high-powered passing attacks, but Saturday's Pac-10 showdown at Autzen Stadium also features the Pac-10's two top rushers. Oregon's Jonathan Stewart is 11th nationally in rushing (125.8 ypg).
"He's definitely been a guy who's carried the load for us so far,'' California coach Jeff Tedford said of Forsett.
If Forsett ever became angry about the questions surrounding his durability, he didn't let it show. After all, this is hardly the first time skeptics have doubted him. Forsett grew up in Florida and attended high school in Texas, but he didn't receive offers from big-time programs in either of those two football-crazy states. Coaches took one look at Forsett's 5-8 frame and assumed he wasn't big enough to handle the grind of big-time college football.
Forsett, who went to high school at Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, sent videotapes to colleges across the country after he said Notre Dame pulled a scholarship offer just before National Signing Day in 2004.
"It was a tremendous blessing for me to end up where I am," Forsett said. "At the time, I didn't see it. It definitely hurt. But God works in mysterious ways. I couldn't be in a better place."
California coaches considered Forsett's availability so late in the recruiting process a blessing in itself.
"We watched his tape and thought this was too good to be true," Tedford said. "(We thought) there's got to be something wrong with him, a skeleton in the closet somewhere.
Forsett wasted little time making an impact. He rushed for a combined 1,674 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry in his first three seasons at Cal as one of the nation's top reserve tailbacks. He was behind J.J. Arrington and Lynch his first year on campus before teaming with Lynch the past two seasons to give Cal one of the Pac-10's top one-two punches in the backfield. Along the way, Forsett learned plenty from each of his predecessors.
"J.J. Arrington was a guy who really took care of his body and everything," Forsett said. "He always told me after practice the most important thing is to take care of your body, to do the extra stretching and everything and to do the extra lifting to set yourself apart from others.
"Marshawn was a guy who's always having fun out there. He'd help me stay loose and remember it's a game and to have fun out there."
Forsett has adopted each of those lessons. He's having fun each Saturday in part because he worked so hard during the offseason to prepare himself for this moment.
Now that Lynch has moved on to the NFL, Forsett knew he would have a greater burden as the Golden Bears' feature back. He worked to get himself ready for the physical demands of his new assignment. His teammates notice the difference.
"He's buffer," California quarterback Nate Longshore said. "He put on some muscle to withstand some of the abuse."
Forsett has handled his expanded role as well as anyone could have expected. He is tied for the Pac-10 lead with seven touchdowns and has played particularly well down the stretch of early season victories over Tennessee and Arizona.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti knows all too well how Forsett gets stronger over the course of a game. Forsett gained 115 yards on 16 carries in the fourth quarter alone when the Bears beat the Ducks 45-24 last season.
"He's the guy who makes that offense go," Bellotti said.
Forsett may need to deliver a repeat performance Saturday as the Bears try to keep Oregon's high-powered offense on the sideline.
Stewart gained just 25 yards on 18 carries against California last year, but he's been virtually unstoppable this season. He has rushed for at least 160 yards in each of the past two games while helping give Oregon the Pac-10's top rushing attack.
Forsett has plenty of respect for Stewart after competing against him in a 60-meter dash during the most recent indoor track season.
"Running against him in track, I know he can move," Forsett said. "He's a great athlete."
Forsett remembers that Stewart posted the faster time that particular day. Consider this Forsett's shot at revenge.
Steve Megargee is a college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.