- Ivan Maisel, College Football Senior Writer
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BERKELEY, Calif. It says right there in his spring practice bio that California quarterback Joe Ayoob threw for 3,679 yards and 35 touchdowns last fall for City College of San Francisco, that Ayoob led the team to an 11-1 record, and that he made first-team juco All-America.
It is worth it to shine a brief light on those credentials, because anyone watching the Cal coaches hover over the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Ayoob at spring practice last Thursday would wonder if the 20-year-old had ever played the position.
When Ayoob pitched the ball with two hands, offensive coordinator George Cortez corrected him.
When Ayoob pitched the ball with one hand, Cortez corrected his motion again.
When Ayoob handed the ball off, Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford said, "Joey, get your hand in!"
"When I hand off, I'm supposed to keep my off hand (the one without the ball) in," Ayoob explained after practice. "I was so concerned [the next time] that I put my hand out and I didn't have the ball in that hand."
When Ayoob threw the ball, he kept his left hand pressed against his chest, which made him look like a cross between a quarterback and an actress auditioning for "Gone With the Wind."
"When I throw, my left hand swings out," Ayoob explained, "and it takes my body off balance. I'm concentrating on putting my hand [to my chest]. It's a lot of little mechanical things to get fixed. That's what spring is for."
One more thing: On the first snap Ayoob took last Thursday, he went into a five-step drop, then threw a deep strike down the right sideline to wide receiver Sam DeSa. There are some things that need no correcting.
"There are so many things I'm thinking about, I'm thinking more than I'm playing," Ayoob said.
"Spring ball," Tedford said, "is about making mistakes."
Tedford is known for his ability to mold quarterbacks. As offensive coordinator at Fresno State and at Oregon, he helped develop Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington into first-round picks in the NFL draft. In his first season at Cal, he took a quarterback with a poor record and turned Kyle Boller into another first-rounder.
Over the last two seasons, Tedford turned Aaron Rodgers into college football's own Lana Turner, the Hollywood star of the 1940s supposedly discovered at the soda fountain at Schwab's Drug Store.
Tedford, watching video of junior college tight end Garrett Cross, saw something in the quarterback throwing to Cross and enticed little-known Aaron Rodgers to sign along with Cross. All Rodgers did last season as a junior was lead the Bears to a 10-2 record, completing nearly two of every three passes (209-of-316, .661) for 2,566 yards, with 24 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
After the season, Rodgers left early for the NFL draft, and he may be the first quarterback taken in a couple of weeks. That's a long way from high school, when Rodgers barely got recruited and went to Butte (Calif.) Junior College because it was the only offer he got.
Compared to Ayoob, however, Rodgers might as well have been a blue chipper. As an option quarterback at Terra Linda High in San Rafael, Ayoob received letters from San Jose State, I-AA Sacramento State and I-AA Humboldt State, with no follow-ups. When he attended football camp at Stanford, the coaches graded him poorly and all but ignored him.
That may have had something to do with the fact that he didn't know how to read a defense.
"I was rated one of the worst quarterbacks there," Ayoob said. "They expect you to know the basics. The coach told me to read the 'flat' defender. I didn't know what that meant. I would just drop back and just throw it out there and see if I guessed the right one. In high school, I'd eyeball the receiver. If he was open, I'd throw it.
"There were 15 or 20 quarterbacks in my age group. I guess the coaches didn't have time to go through progressions and explain what to do. They'd just give me less reps."
Ayoob went to CCSF, largely because he went to high school with the daughter of longtime offensive coordinator Dan Hayes. Ayoob arrived as one of nine quarterbacks three years ago. Hayes taught Ayoob to read defenses, and after sitting a year Ayoob led CCSF to the junior-college national championship in 2003, and a 23-game winning streak before the team lost the state championship game last fall.
Tedford has no problem with tightening the ratchets on Ayoob's motion. A quarterback with only two years of experience in a passing offense is raw by definition. But when Tedford listed the five qualities that he looks for in a quarterback, the first three had nothing to do with mechanics.
"One, mental and physical toughness," Tedford began. "Two, intelligence. Three, competitiveness. Four, athletic or escape dimension, and five would be some type of arm strength or throwing motion.
"The escape and the arm strength, you can see on tape. The mental and physical toughness, you can see if you go to the game. Watch how they get up. Sometimes, you find out more after they throw: how they get up, how they respond to teammates, how they respond to adversity. When they throw three interceptions, how do they bounce back?"
Tedford saw the toughness he sought in the junior college state championship game in 2003, Ayoob's freshman year.
"It was the last drive of the game," Tedford said. "Joe scrambled and had to make a first down. He hurdled over the guy and got it. Watching him compete on that last drive was special to see. He was doing it all: throwing balls, making yards, driving, hurdling people. The guy is a competitor."
Ayoob hasn't won the starting job yet, but his competitive drive includes a long memory. First of all, Ayoob ended up at Stanford's arch rival. Second, the Stanford coaching staff that dismissed him is now at Washington. Ayoob has the two games circled on the 2005 schedule. They're just one more thing for him to think about.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cal coaches are working with him like he's never played QB. But Joe Ayoob is ready to be the next great Cal QB.