Nothing is promised to them next fall, but by the start of the 2013 season it's likely that Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco or Darren Ervin will be the starting tailback for the Cal football team.
Freshmen last fall, the three are embracing spring workouts as an opportunity to show they deserve playing time behind seniors Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson.
"This is a big opportunity for us to learn from these guys and step up to the plate," said Ervin, a redshirt freshman from Houston. "We're all confident, all have the same mindset."
Bigelow wants more than that.
"I can see that third spot, but I am a competitor so I'm going to give them a run for their money," said Bigelow, who came back from an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee as a high school senior to return kickoffs for Cal last season. "Nothing is slowing me down right now. Confidence is up. A big spring for me."
For coach Jeff Tedford, who typically has used a committee of tailbacks, there is urgency to develop the next generation that will succeed Sofele and Anderson.
Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards last season and Anderson, a transfer from Laney College, added 345. The two combined for 18 rushing touchdowns. A year from now, the position will belong to someone else.
"With all three of those guys, it's real important to find out what they can do," Tedford said. "We always want someone to emerge, no doubt."
Lasco, the biggest of the three young
"I'm just trying to take in everything Isi and C.J. know, so next year me and Bigelow and Darren can take over," Lasco said.
A native of Fresno, Bigelow said his knee no longer aches. "I'm better than I've ever been," he said.
Ervin arrived at Cal for spring workouts last year and almost immediately tore ligaments in his left ankle. Then he tore his right quad muscle in the fall and wound up redshirting. Now, he said, "I feel great."
Still, Sofele can relate to the anxiety the young trio likely feel.
"It's real scary, but it's exciting at the same time," he said. "I feel like they're doing great for the second day of practice. They're coming out here not thinking as much -- just playing.
"I don't know who it's going to be, but ... it'll be one of them."
Junior Allan Bridgford took first-team reps in Maynard's place.