The first NCAA Div. I football program to offer J.P. Hurrell a scholarship was BYU. But once Cal entered the picture, it became a moot point. The senior inside linebacker out of Serra High in San Mateo was bound for Berkeley.

"As soon as Cal offered me, I was more than excited and grateful at the same time," said Hurrell, who found the right combination of academics and football while managing to stay close to his family.

The first three years at Cal were spent as the backup to Mike Mohamed and Mychal Kendricks, the latter last year's Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year who in April was drafted with the No. 46 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles.

It didn't matter. The 5-foot-11 230-pounder still found his way onto the field in all 38 games from 2009 to 2011 -- one of three members of the Golden Bears to achieve the feat.

"He never relished the limelight," Serra coach Patrick Walsh said. "It was never about him. It was about the team, which is refreshing from a star player. J.P. was out there being selfless and sacrificing his own personal gain for the good of the team, sacrificing his body for the good of the team. He played injured. He's always been the type of kid that's shown a great deal of resiliency and love for his teammates."

The majority of Hurrell's contributions came on special teams, where the 22-year-old showed he was not afraid.


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"You have to be fearless pretty much, in my eyes," Hurrell said. "You can't be scared to take on a hit or give a hit."

A self-professed run stuffer, Hurrell is a key component of this year's base package. His second career start came this season against Southern Utah in which he made six tackles. But two weeks later, in a loss at USC, Hurrell suffered a knee injury and missed the next two games.

Hurrell was sidelined during a three-game losing streak that left Cal at 1-4, but the first half of the season came to a close with a 43-17 trouncing of UCLA that felt like vindication.

"I'm not going to say that our heads were down, but for sure a win was much needed," Hurrell said. "After beating UCLA, it kind of redeemed a lot of guys on the team. It was a great feeling."

Hurrell returned for last week's 31-17 triumph at Washington State, and the Golden Bears are on a two-game win streak prior to his fourth and final meeting against rival Stanford.

"Because the Big Game is so early, I really don't know what to expect," Hurrell said. "Just that we're ready and we can't wait for the game to come around."

Cal (3-4) came out on the wrong end of the past two editions of the Big Game, which means third-year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is still winless against the Cardinal. No doubt there will be some surprises when the smash-mouth style of Stanford clashes with the Golden Bears.

But Hurrell is not divulging any secrets.

"Coach Clancy, coming from the NFL, he has a lot of experience with our defensive packages, so he loves switching it up," he said. "But as far as our scheme goes, you're just going to have to wait and see."

Asked in a different way what it will take to slow down Stanford senior Stepfan Taylor, who has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards each of the past two seasons, Hurrell was both blunt and elusive.

"The challenge is just about knowing your plays, knowing your assignment," Hurrell said. "And it's all about execution at the end of the day. That's pretty much all I have to say for that."

One guarantee is that Hurrell will be at the end of some bone-crunching collisions.

"The thing I remember most about J.P. is his electric feet," Walsh said. "He was never the biggest guy on the field, but the amount of power and it's almost like electricity that is generated by his feet is really amazing. ...

"We have a little Wall of Fame for anybody who plays college football at any level," Walsh added. "And we're really proud of J.P. We've kept tabs on him. We're honored that he's from Serra High School. All those guys from Tom Brady to J.P. Hurrell."

Email Vytas Mazeika at vmazeika@dailynewsgroup.com; follow him at Twitter.com/dailynewsvytas.