Mychal Kendricks has heard for years how good he could be.
It was whispered in his ear in high school, even before he dreamed of playing college football. As a freshman at Cal, the message came from senior teammate Worrell Williams, who told him he could become the school's greatest linebacker.
Even now, with just one game left in his Cal career, the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year isn't willing to fully embrace the idea.
"It's a very broad label," Kendricks said. "I don't think I'm the best who's ever played here. There's a lot of players who came before me who were astounding."
Players such as Ron Rivera, Hardy Nickerson and David Ortega, even dating back to Les Richter, a first-round NFL draft pick in 1952 and a posthumous inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.
"There's so much history," Kendricks said. "It's just a blessing to be a part of the conversation."
As the Bears prepare to face Texas on Wednesday in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego, Cal coach Jeff Tedford agrees that Kendricks belongs in the discussion, at least in recent time.
"He's right there, right at the top of those we've had in our time here," said Tedford, completing his 10th season in Berkeley. "He's probably the fastest linebacker we've had."
Just not fast to swallow the talk around him.
Asked back in 2009 about Williams' pronouncement from the season before, Kendricks excitedly lapped it up. He was a sophomore at
"I was really young. I didn't know what I was talking about at all," Kendricks said last week. "I was so oblivious to the fact that it takes hard work and a lot more than people telling you that you're good."
He understands the equation now. "That's what I should have clarified -- that if you work hard and you have a dream or a picture in your mind, you can make it happen, you can make it a reality," he said.
Clancy Pendergast, hired as defensive coordinator in the spring of 2010, said Kendricks' work ethic was one of the first things he noticed.
"He was a very hungry player," Pendergast recalled. "Mychal's a gym-rat type guy. When you want to find Mychal, you find him in the film room studying. He's a guy who enjoys playing football and works at it in the weight room and the meeting room."
What Tedford appreciates more than anything is how Kendricks has folded his passion into the big picture. "The thing he's grown to do over the years is really care about team and really be dedicated to the team," Tedford said.
Kendricks, a 6-foot, 240-pound Fresno native, says his favorite part of each day is spending time on the practice field with his teammates. Kendricks' career is likely to continue next fall in the NFL, but he is mindful that the Holiday Bowl marks the end of a chapter.
"It's a big game. Everyone knows Texas," he said. But "it's bittersweet ... the last time I get to play with my guys and these coaches."
He has made the most of it so far. Kendricks totaled 96 tackles this season, including 13 for losses and three sacks. He also intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles.
Pendergast, who spent 15 seasons coaching in the NFL, said Kendricks' ability to make tackles in space separates him. "He will wow you with his closing ability on ball carriers in the open field. I've kind of gotten used to it," Pendergast said.
Kendricks hopes to be better still against Texas without the cast he wore the final six games after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.
"I'm real excited," he said.
"I have about 400 followers and 26 tweets," Kendricks acknowledged. "I'm more of a Facebook kind of guy."
WEDNESDAY: Cal (7-5)
vs. Texas (7-5) at San Diego, 5 p.m., ESPN