The discussion around the Lofton family dinner table has focused on Big Game since about, oh, two summers ago. “It started when he committed to Cal,” senior safety David Lofton says about brother Daniel, a freshman wide receiver for the Golden Bears.
The younger Lofton, a two-sport athlete, suffered a stress fracture in spring track season, and likely won’t be on the field when the Cardinal travels to Berkeley in December. And that’s fine with everyone at home. “I feel like my mom’s kind of relieved that they’re planning on redshirting him,” David Lofton says. “So she can cheer for me in my last Big Game.”
There’s another interested observer at the table—dad James Lofton, a wide receivers coach with the San Diego Chargers and one of the National Football League’s great wide receivers. Lofton père, ’78, had a 16-year career with the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. His name appears seven times in Cardinal record books; he still tops the list for single-season touchdown receptions, with 12 in 1977. When James Lofton was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2003, David gave his induction speech. “I talked about his work ethic and how he instilled that in me, not just about football, but about life. He’s been a great role model for me.”
David Lofton has played several positions for the Cardinal—backup quarterback, wide receiver and both free and strong safety. This year he’s starting at free safety, tied for fifth on the team with 46 tackles, and hoping for a turnaround to the season. “For most players on the team, like myself, 0 and 4 is the worst we’ve ever done in any sport in our lives,” he said in September. “It’s definitely a place we don’t want to be.”
Midway through the season, the Cardinal had suffered seven consecutive season-opening losses for the first time since 1960—to Oregon (48-10), San Jose State (35-34), Navy (37-9), Washington State (36-10), UCLA (31-0), Notre Dame (31-10) and Arizona (20-7). The five games remaining at press time included USC and Cal.
Injuries bedeviled the Cardinal early on, removing several key seniors from action. Wide receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore injured their right feet, defensive back Brandon Harrison hurt his right leg, wide receiver Marcus McCutcheon suffered a knee injury, and fullback Nick Frank was forced to retire because of a spinal injury.
By the October 14 Homecoming game against Arizona, offensive lineman Jon Cochran couldn’t suit up because an ingrown facial hair had turned into a staph infection. On the third offensive play that day, quarterback Trent Edwards suffered a season-ending broken right foot. Backup quarterback T.C. Ostrander finished the Arizona game, but hurt his left knee on the final offensive play. (Redshirt freshman Tavita Pritchard will step in if necessary.) The Cardinal finished the game with only 52 offensive yards, the lowest in school history.
“This has been the year of freak injuries,” head coach Walt Harris said three days later. “With all the season-ending injuries we’ve had, you kind of feel a little punchy.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” Harris added. “The hardest part is not necessarily dealing with the injuries as what happens in the game: you get stopped, they score, you fumble, they score. Right now, 14-0 could be like 40-0—it looks huge. Our confidence level, especially on offense, is what’s so tenuous. We’ve got to change that.”
As Big Game approaches, David Lofton is hoping for some good intergenerational karma. “Coach Harris says when he was a young coach at Cal, he remembers my dad being hawk on the punt team and catching a punt on the 2-yard line,” Lofton says. “And now I’m a hawk on the punt team.”
As he dialed “shuffle” on his iPod, mixing classical music with rap and warming up for practice, Lofton said he was ready. “Loss is always disappointing, but this is where the character of our team will show,” he added. “We’ll see how guys will respond to adversity.”