When Patrick Laird heard his named called by first-year Cal football head coach Justin Wilcox last week, he wasn’t sure what to think.
“He said, ‘Hey, can I talk to you after practice?’ ” Laird, a former standout at Mission Prep, recounted during a phone interview Thursday. “Usually when your name gets called for a meeting after practice it’s not a good thing.”
But when the Arroyo Grande native sat down in the coach’s office Aug. 10, Laird heard the words he had been waiting for since he first stepped foot on the Berkeley campus as a walk-on three years ago.
“(Wilcox) said, ‘We are going to put you on scholarship,’ ” Laird said. “I just expressed my gratitude and said thank you. I was kind of shocked.”
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Laird was one of five former walk-ons this season to receive full scholarships, a value of around $30,000 per year apiece, according to the school’s website.
“Word got around, and by the time I got back to the locker room, people were going crazy,” Laird said.
When Larid first arrived at Cal, he did so knowing he would have to work his way up from the bottom.
Laird wasn’t heavily recruited despite straight As and a senior season at Mission Prep that included rushing for more than 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns as a running back. He drew interest from Ivy Leauge schools, just like his brother Kevin, and probably would have seen the field early and often if he had headed east. But instead he stayed in his home state and decided to switch positions to fullback and join Cal as a preferred walk-on.
“I came in thinking that if I saw the field on special teams, or in that fullback role, I was happy with that,” said Laird, who is listed at 6-feet, 200 pounds. “When I got here, I kind of realized that athletically I could definitely compete.”
But it was hard for Larid to stand out — scholarship players tend to get most of the attention from coaches, after all. Slowly, Laird made his mark.
“I think they underestimated my athletic ability and speed a little bit,” Laird said.
His freshman season, he played in all 17 games and carried the ball three times in a game against Sacramento State. After taking a red-shirt season in 2015, Laird turned some heads during Cal’s spring game and started the 2016 season by recovering an onside kick against Hawaii on national television. Laird went on to carry the ball eight times for 59 yards and a touchdown last year. In his downtime, he continued to pursue his passion for making music and stayed ready.
Competing For Carries
Now a red-shirt junior with a brand-new coaching staff, Laird has been competing against a pair of senior running backs, Tre Watson and Vic Enwere, for carries. Laird is listed No. 2 on the depth chart along with Enwere.
“I am getting a good amount of reps, more than I have ever gotten in the past,” Larid said. “Usually in college football, teams have been moving away from a single running back into more of a two to three running back rotation. I am just hoping to be in that rotation this year.”
While he counts what happened last week as a highlight of his time in Berkeley, he’s ready to make new memories.
“I don’t want just something that has happens off the field to be the best moment,” Laird said. “I think this season, I will probably create something that will be the best moment of my career so far in football.”