Cal coach Jeff Tedford needed no convincing that Isi Sofele was big enough to play major college football. He has some pretty striking evidence that someone of Sofele's diminutive stature can get the job done.

In the 2003 season opener, Tedford watched Kansas State tailback Darren Sproles run for 175 yards in Cal's 42-28 loss to the Wildcats. Sofele's 5-foot-7, 170-pound frame is similar to Sproles', and Tedford believes Sofele can make an impact — sooner rather than later.

Sofele is the only true freshman Tedford has said will definitely play this season. A running back at Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City, Sofele has been taking reps at wide receiver for the Bears. He will play on Cal's kick and punt coverage teams and could see time as a kick returner.

"He's quick, elusive, he has really good ball skills and he's a really good special teams player," Tedford said. "You can put him in a lot of places. He's done a really nice job of comprehending the offense, about as good as anyone."

Despite rushing for 1,920 yards as a high school senior, Sofele has been working primarily with the receivers so far. But Tedford said he would consider using Sofele at running back as well.

"There have been a lot of guys like (Sproles)," Tedford said. "The thing about it is, he's small, but he's really strong. He really packs a punch. He can block; he's physical. That's what you worry about with a small guy. Is he physical enough? He's really physical."

  • One of the few issues left to be decided is at kicker, where incumbent Giorgio Tavecchio is battling David Seawright and incoming freshman Vince D'Amato for kickoff and field goal duties. Tedford said he wants to see each of them perform in more situations at practice. Tavecchio appears to be the front-runner. ... Star tailback Jahvid Best missed practice Thursday because of an appointment, according to Tedford. The Bears were off Friday and Best is expected to return to practice today. ... Backup linebacker Robert Mullins will be out four to six weeks because of a sprained knee. Safety Marcus Ezeff and tight end Skylar Curran are day to day with ankle sprains. ... Today is Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium from noon to 2 p.m. Players and coaches will be available for autographs and photos.