BERKELEY — Last fall was one of the worst times of Darian Hagan's life. So imagine how he felt when he finally was presented a chance at playing time at Colorado State and allowed a receiver to get behind him for a touchdown while Cal nursed a big lead.
Hagan, a highly recruited cornerback from Los Angeles, thought he'd be starting that game against the Rams. With the departure of Daymeion Hughes to the NFL, the Bears had a spot available at cornerback. Many thought Hagan was the heir apparent.
But he was beat out by senior Brandon Hampton, and later in the year was passed up on the depth chart by true freshman Chris Conte.
Cal is getting ready to play Colorado State again, and things couldn't be more different for Hagan. Now a redshirt sophomore, Hagan has started every game this season and is relishing the chance to play the Rams again.
"I've grown as a person and as an athlete," Hagan said. "I've gotten more mature on the football field, as well as off of it. I feel like I'm a totally different player than I was then."
Cal had a 34-14 lead against the Rams with 5:49 left when the coaching staff allowed the second-team defense to take the field. Colorado State receiver Damon Morton got behind Hagan for a 66-yard touchdown catch.
"I read it wrong, and I broke on the ball the wrong way," Hagan said. "The quarterback threw it over my head to the other guy, and they scored a big touchdown. I appreciate that experience. This year, I have a few games under my belt, and I've grown more confident. This Saturday, I just intend to go off."
Colorado State scored another late touchdown after safety Marcus Ezeff allowed another receiver to get behind him to set up a short scoring run, but the Bears ultimately held on.
Hagan started showing signs of improvement during the practices leading up to last year's Armed Forces Bowl and it carried over to the spring. During the summer, Hagan placed a phone call to linebacker Worrell Williams, one of the leaders of Cal's defense.
"Since he's a senior and a leader on this defense, I just told him to stay on my tail and make sure I get this done," Hagan said. "I just told him to be there for me and keep pushing me."
Williams said he knew Hagan had turned the corner at that point.
"That was it right there, having the sense of urgency and the awareness to know he needs to reach out to one of his teammates," Williams said. "That's a sign of maturity. The talent has always been there, the skill has always been there. He understands that he really has a responsibility and he's accountable to all the guys on the field. I think it really sinks into him now."
Coach Jeff Tedford said after practice Thursday that freshman nose tackle Kendrick Payne will miss the rest of the season after doctors found the damage to his knee to be more extensive than originally anticipated. Payne initially was expected to undergo simple arthroscopic surgery and return in a few weeks. But doctors found Payne had a torn medial collateral ligament. Tedford said Payne will redshirt the season. ... Free safety Bernard Hicks continued to be held out of practice with a thigh bruise. Brett Johnson will start Saturday.
— Jonathan Okanes