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A Spring Show of 49er Football : In-House Game Is a Peek at September

Times Staff Writer

A football field was laid out in the middle of the campus running track Saturday and the Cal State Long Beach football team, full of hope for a new season, played the annual Brown-Gold intra-squad game before a few hundred people who sat in the sun as yellow balloons floated above them in the sea breeze.

In the first quarter, junior David Caylor, the once-promising kicker who has been inconsistent since opening his career two years ago with a 55-yard field goal against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, got set for a 34-yard attempt for the Brown team. As he did, the Gold players chanted, “Fresno, Fresno.”

That was a reminder of last season’s Fresno State game, in which Caylor missed a late field goal which could have won the game for the 49ers and put them on the brink of a league championship. Caylor’s teammates labored hard that emotional night at Veterans Stadium before the largest home crowd in years and apparently have not yet forgiven the kicker for letting them down.

But Caylor was not rattled. He blocked out the chants and made the field goal, and when he returned to the sidelines, head Coach Mike Sheppard said, “Nice kick, David.”

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The Fresno game “used to bother me a lot,” Caylor said. “Now I’ve got to continue on with what I’m doing.”

But his job for the fall would appear to be in jeopardy because of bad grades and a promising incoming freshman, Eric Weetman from Upland High School.

Senior split end Charles Lockett, chalk dust on his brown jersey, streaked down the sideline. Sophomore cornerback Stacey Alexander streaked with him step for step.

They looked up to see, spiraling high against the soft blue-gray sky, a ball thrown by second-string quarterback Gary Ruhlen. When it came down, it fell through Lockett’s hands and hit the ground.

Lockett could be depended upon to make spectacular catches two years ago when, as a sophomore, he was one of the top receivers in the country with 75 catches. Last year he was much less spectacular, but still caught 69. “We felt, for him, he just had an average season last year,” Sheppard said.

Lockett said he anticipated little trouble adjusting to Ruhlen or Jeff Graham, the designated No. 1 quarterback, after two years with the record-setting Doug Gaynor.

“Both have good arms,” he said. “I just have to get used to them. We’ll work on that this summer.”

Graham was not great Saturday--10 pass completions in 26 attempts for 111 yards and 2 interceptions. Ruhlen was 12 for 23 for 75 yards.

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At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Graham didn’t merely throw passes, he rocketed them--"90 mile-per-hour fastballs,” said quarterback coach Mike Sanford--and many were too hot to hold.

But his fourth-quarter, 30-yard rocket to Brian Browning in the end zone won the game for the Gold, 7-3.

“I feel the pressure (of replacing Gaynor) but I’m just going to take it in stride,” Graham said. “By the time the season starts, I’ll be a well-prepared quarterback.”

He said he wasn’t concerned that it has been two years since he last guided a team during a real game, when he was a senior at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa.

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“It’s the old saying, it’s no different than riding a bike--once you know how, you never forget,” Graham said.

David McKinnon, a redshirt freshman offensive tackle from Fullerton, stood out, but not just because of his 6-5, 280-pound size or his old, black, high-top shoes.

Most of McKinnon’s head had been shaved, and the part that wasn’t formed an arrow.

“We let guys be individuals, but during the season he’ll do it my way,” Sheppard said. “He’s not at all a rebel.”

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As Paul Albertini, a freshman tight end from Whittier College, caught a pass for the Brown, he dislocated a finger, which stuck out at a grotesque angle. He gasped in pain as trainers tried to wrest it back in place.

Finally, with a loud crack, they succeeded, and Albertini wiggled the finger in relief.

Assistant Coach Steve Bresnahan asked a trainer, “Is he done?” and Albertini, his finger taped, said, “No such thing as done, coach.”

Watching the game from a corner of the field were former 49er players Stephen Sapp and Dave Komendat, both shirt-less and wearing shorts and sunglasses.

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Sapp and Komendat ended their careers last season and aren’t likely to play football again. “Not with my knees; I’m done,” Komendat said.

Two years ago, during the spring game, Sapp had writhed on the ground after being injured. That seemed long ago.

“It’s sad,” he said. “You don’t feel a part of it anymore. The practices you don’t miss but the big things like this you do.”

Komendat agreed. “On a nice, sunny day like this I don’t know if I’d want to put the pads on,” he said. “The hard part will be Sept. 6 (opening game against San Diego State) when they’re on the field and we’re up in the stands.”

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