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California's quarterback Nate Longshore drops back to pass against the Portland State defense in the second quarter at Memorial Stadium.
BERKELEY — Wait until Tennessee gets a load of Nate Longshore now. The Volunteers won't recognize him as the same quarterback.

For one thing, there's the hair. Longshore's familiar buzz cut is gone, replaced by a longer black-and-gold coiffure that can only be described as part Las Vegas lounge comedian, part "Addams Family" goth. But here's the weird part — it works for Nate.

The end result wasn't really planned, but here's what happened. Longshore thought it would be a cool idea to show up for the first day of Cal football camp last week with his hair dyed blue. It was a hit, too, a symbolic gesture of his dedication toward a great 2007 season.

Unfortunately, it didn't work for the team photo shoot, and Nate was informed by coach Jeff Tedford he had to do something about the blue or go with last year's photos, in which he looks like a Marines recruiting ad.

So, short story long, Longshore's dome is now mostly black, with wisps ofhis natural blond, and, as Nate noted, if you turn a certain way to the sun, you can still see a little blue tint. The'do was done by his his fiancee, Rachel, and honestly, despite that earlier harsh description, she performed an admirable rescue.

But for all that trouble, why not just shave it again?

"No chance," Longshore said. "I worked too long and hard to grow this hair out to just go and cut it like that. But it'll be pretty awkward for a while.


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Longshore has no interest in going back to his old look in a lot of ways, and when the Volunteers visit Memorial Stadium on Sept.1, they're going to see the player part, too. Bravado has been replaced by real confidence. The inexperienced, erratic novice who was knocked for a loop in Knoxville at the outset of last season has morphed into a smart, savvy and frequently spectacular quarterback.

What's more, there is absolutely no question he's the starter now. If you remember last year's camp, Tedford didn't make the call on his No. 1 between Longshore and Joe Ayoob until the last few days leading up to the Tennessee opener.

Tedford admits now that putting Longshore in that situation was almost unfair, but at the time, he was still the best option.

"That was a difficult first opportunity with the new (spread) offense, with the shotgun, with the crowd like that," the coach said. "It was about as difficult a task as you could have, plus the speed of Tennessee — everything was moving pretty fast. It was definitely a rough one to start with."

But instead of the experience destroying his morale, it served to inspire both him and his teammates.

"Looking back on it, I kind of appreciate that game more than any other game we had last year," Longshore said. "I felt like that game set our tone in practice for the rest of the season, set our mentality going into the games. It's unfortunate what happened — you obviously don't want to go out there and embarrass yourself the first weekend of the season — but I felt like it was something we needed to help our focus."

Longshore's sophomore season turned out to be a sensational campaign. He was named Pac-10 offensive player of the week three times. He became only the second Cal quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards, and he was co-MVP of the Bears' climactic Holiday Bowl romp over Texas A&M. Beyond the numbers and accomplishments, he became an accomplished leader.

At the controls of such a high-powered, intricate offense, everyone knows the quarterback must be the consummate facilitator, the guy who makes it go. Longshore estimates that his teammates gained total faith in him three or four games after the Tennessee debacle.

"I can remember one play, we had a play-action on or something, and I said, 'If you guys block this, it's a touchdown,'" he said. "Sure enough, we blocked it, and it was a touchdown. I think that was a turning point on the field.

"At the quarterback position, there's only so much you can do in practice. To really gain your teammate's respect, it really comes down to how you work when the coaches aren't around, how you act when the coaches aren't around, and obviously, your performance in games. It's tough to lead when your performance isn't helping you any."

Longshore admitted he'd love to go back to Tennessee and play last year's opener all over again, but he has the next-best opportunity when the Vols visit Berkeley in a few weeks. Tedford assessed the dramatically different QB the Vols will be seeing this time around.

"He's way more advanced because he understands the speed of the game, he's like another coach on the field," the coach said. "Not to mention that there was a new part of the offense that was being put in last year that he was unsure about. I think he's very comfortable with the offense that we're running now, and he just understands the whole thing with regard to timing and all. He's just a great field general."

Quite a compliment, but it makes you wonder: Did Patton ever have hair issues?

Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at

csteward@angnewspapers.com.