Zach Maynard had been on Cal's campus for only three months when he was picked to take over an offense that was largely responsible for a disappointing 5-7 season in 2010.
A junior transfer from Buffalo, Maynard was named Cal's starting quarterback shortly after the completion of spring practice, beating out fifth-year senior Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford.
Skeptics might question whether a quarterback who began his college career at midmajor Buffalo will succeed in the Pac-12, but Maynard was a highly recruited prospect from Grimsley High in Greensboro, N.C., courted by big-time programs such as LSU, Oregon and Clemson. They backed off, however, when Maynard struggled to achieve the necessary test scores to become eligible.
Maynard acknowledged that he had nobody but himself to blame for missing out on joining a top program right away.
"I respected all the programs that did back off of me. I didn't take school as seriously as I should have in high school," Maynard said. "Growing up in the South, it was all about ball. I went to a great high school academically, and you really have to do your work. I didn't really care about school."
Maynard did get eligible in time to enroll at Buffalo, where he served in a backup role as a true freshman in 2008. He became the starter as a sophomore, throwing for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also established himself as a dual-threat quarterback, rushing for 300 yards,
But coach Turner Gill left Buffalo after the 2009 season to become coach at Kansas. Maynard said he "wasn't really feeling the vibe around there" after Gill left, so decided to transfer.
In a case of fortuitous timing, Maynard's half brother, Keenan Allen, was finishing his senior season of high school and was one of the most-sought-after recruits in the country. Allen had orally committed to Alabama but put it on hold when he found out Maynard was transferring. (Maynard and Allen grew up in the same house and consider themselves brothers.)
"I called Keenan, and he told me he was going to go wherever I go," Maynard said. "At the end of the day, blood is thicker than water."
Maynard and Allen had come to Cal's summer camp previously and decided to visit again. Attracted by coach Jeff Tedford's reputation with quarterbacks, Maynard told Allen that he wanted to transfer to Cal.
"Our relationship is as strong as possible. Nothing can break us," Allen said. "I just wanted to do what's best for him, so we came out here."
It was a bit of a risky move by Maynard, giving up a starting job to attend a school that offered no guarantees of playing time. The move became even riskier when Maynard had to grayshirt to get his academics in order for Cal. He took classes at Contra Costa College before becoming a Bear.
Maynard, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound left-hander, is a good fit for Tedford's desire to find a more mobile quarterback, and he arguably is the quickest quarterback to play for Tedford at Cal.
Tedford could have waited until training camp began this week to choose a starter, but he thought Maynard had separated himself from the competition and would benefit from knowing he was the starter during summer workouts. That allowed Maynard time to see if he could earn the respect of his teammates.
"He's matured a lot since he was a kid," Allen said. "He used to play around and be all fun and games. Now he's really serious. You can't get him out of the film room. He always wants to work out. He's taking care of business now."
The pressing question is: Can Maynard be the quarterback who at one time was receiving interest from schools in the SEC, ACC and Pac-10? At Buffalo, he didn't face the week-in and week-out competition that he will at Cal. But he did complete 24 of 35 passes for 400 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh, a Big East team, while playing for the Bulls.
"I would go to war with him," said Otis Yelverton, Maynard's former high school coach. "I think he's going to surprise a lot of people."