SAN FRANCISCO – When the Pac-12 was about to become a reality and it was obvious it would be split into two divisions for football, Washington State coach Paul Wulff made it clear he dearly wanted to ensure a trip each season to Northern California.
Not because Wulff, a native of Woodland, just outside of Sacramento, wanted to visit his old haunts on a yearly basis.
It had everything to do with recruiting. Wulff saw Northern California as a fertile ground for the Cougars.
He got his wish. The Cougars are in the same North Division with Stanford and Saturday’s opponent, the California Golden Bears.
The importance of the connection is evident just looking at the WSU roster. The Cougars have 22 players who either grew up, attended high school or played JC football within a four-hour drive of the Bay Area.
And many will have large groups of relatives at today’s Pac-12 matchup.
“I’m excited to play down there because a lot of my family members are going to come to watch,” said sophomore safety Deone Bucannon, who grew up in Fairfield, less than an hour up Interstate 80 from Berkeley, where the University of California is located.
Though Bucannon said he never was all that interested in attending Cal, his secondary running mate, cornerback Damante Horton, admitted to being a Bear believer as a high school player in Oakland, just south of Berkeley.
“Growing up, ya, I wanted to go to Cal,” said the sophomore, who leads WSU with four interceptions, one more than Bucannon. “But I felt all my friends wanted to go to Cal, just because it’s close.”
But no one has more connections or lived closer to Berkeley than redshirt freshman running back Rickey Galvin.
As a record-setting running back at Berkeley High, less than two miles from Memorial Stadium, Galvin wanted to wear the blue and gold, just like his hero, Marshawn Lynch.
“When he went to Oakland Tech, I was playing Pop Warner for the Oakland Dynamites,” Galvin said of the former California Bear and now Seahawk running back. “Just watching him and going to his games after practice, it gave me hope.”
But the Bears didn’t recruit him.
“I was a big fan,” said the 5-foot-8, 171-pound Galvin, who leads WSU in rushing with 406 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. “Being so close, seeing all of those athletes going in and out, made me want to go there. Going to all the camps throughout high school, made me want to go there.
“But this is going to be a big game, and a personal game for me. I didn’t get recruited for whatever reason, (and) I’m going to take this game as a chance to show this is what you’re missing out on.”
And Galvin knows the best revenge.
“Help my team win,” he said.
But he won’t get a chance to do it in Strawberry Canyon.
The Bears’ Memorial Stadium is undergoing a year-long, $321-million facelift. Saturday’s game will be across the bay at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
“It’s kind of different,” Horton said of a baseball stadium-turned-football facility.
Different, but still close to home.