BERKELEY — Henry Young can go to practice again.
The father of Cal wide receiver Sean Young used to attend practice quite often when his son first joined the program. But as Sean fell on hard times, Henry stayed away.
"In the beginning, the writers and coaches would always say hi, then all of the sudden nobody was speaking with you," Henry said. "I stopped going. It was hard."
Sean Young's time at Cal has been marked by injury-induced disappointments, but his career is still going, thanks to the NCAA granting him a sixth year of eligibility.
Young is making the most of the extension. He's been perhaps Cal's most consistent receiver during training camp, and after years of fighting off injuries and looking up to stars such as DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan on the depth chart, it appears he's finally in position to get on the field this season.
Henry Young didn't attend a practice for a few years, but finally went back to watch Saturday. He saw Sean catch a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kevin Riley.
"That's all I needed to see," Henry said. "I told my family, 'We can go now.' "
Sean Young turned down a couple of other Pac-10 offers to play college football up the street. A Berkeley High School graduate, Young was one of the top-rated receivers in the state and was expected to contribute right away as a true freshman. But during training camp of 2003, he suffered severe ligament damage in his right big toe during a training camp practice and had to have surgery.
Young spent the next few seasons trying to get his foot back to full health while battling a confidence crisis. The Bears brought in top-level recruits such as Jackson and Hawkins, and Young found himself buried on the depth chart and wondering where his career was heading.
"I was down in the tank for a long, long time," Young said. "It was a really hard time. I don't even know how to explain the feelings I had. It was hard to accept. My career didn't really happen the way I wanted it to. That was really hard for me. I was thinking maybe I just wasn't meant to do this."
Young battled other nagging injuries along the way, but he finally felt physically and mentally healthy when training camp opened for the 2007 season. He realized it would be hard to take reps away from Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan, but he welcomed the chance to compete and had a good camp.
What happened next is still hard for Young to accept. In the third game of the 2007 season, he registered a 19-yard completion against Louisiana Tech. As he was tackled he felt his other foot give out. This time, he had done the same exact thing to his left big toe. More ligament damage, more surgery, and the end to his season.
"How could the exact same thing happen?" Young said. "What are the odds of that, on separate feet? It was unbelievable. From there, I was a little discouraged. Things weren't happening the way I expected. I just felt that maybe it was a sign that maybe my time was up."
Young knew he probably had a pretty good case to get an extra year of eligibility but wasn't sure that's what he wanted. However, with prodding by his father and brother Eddie, who plays linebacker for Cal, he decided to come back for one more season.
With Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan now departed, there are opportunities at wide receiver at Cal. Young appears headed to become the team's No. 4 receiver, meaning he should get some chances to erase the missed opportunities of the past five years.
"He's a guy who has been here so long and really has been plagued by injuries most of his career," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "You can tell he's really comfortable with what he's doing. The consistency that he's playing with is really nice to see."
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.