It happens often enough to be considered a holiday season tradition on the order of Black Friday and white elephant parties. After Cal's final football game, coach Jeff Tedford is approached by one or more of his junior players who are considering leaving school early to declare for the NFL draft.
"It's my duty to those juniors (to) give them an evaluation packet," Tedford said Tuesday, "so that if they choose to send it in (to the NFL) that they get evaluated."
But wait, there's more.
"At that time," he said, "I'll talk to them about the pros and cons and things like that."
This holiday season, running back Shane Vereen will be one of those dropping by Tedford's office for a folder and some friendly advice. And unless the NFL does something profoundly stupid in the next two months -- like adopt rugby rules, or declare a lockout -- Vereen is almost certain to decide, based on what he hears and what he feels, to go pro.
It would be a fool's errand to try to convince him otherwise, at least with a straight face. ("You know, Shane, with Cal playing its games at AT&T Park next season, this could be your only chance to say you dressed at Barry Zito's locker.") Vereen has his degree. Based on what we see right this minute, Cal will enter next season with an unproven quarterback. Thus, its offense will be approximately as dependent upon Vereen as it has been this exhausting 208-carry, 1,061-yard season.
That would be Jahvid Best's not-so-excellent adventure as an NFL rookie.
Last year at this time, Best was in Vereen's position. Cal's top running back. Copious talent. An NFL prospect. Junior season drawing to a close. In Best's case, it drew to a close without him as he recovered from a back injury.
He listened to Tedford's presentation, consulted with his inner circle and declared for the draft. It was a perfect plan well executed. Best was picked in the first round by the Detroit Lions and signed a five-year contract for $9.8 million.
For the first two weeks of the season, life was a dream. The Lions lost both games, but Best scored five touchdowns. In the second, against the Philadelphia Eagles and old Cal pal DeSean Jackson, Best ran for 78 yards and caught nine passes for 154 more.
He's been dogged by turf toe on both feet ever since. He hasn't scored a touchdown in nine games, during which he has averaged 3.0 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch. He was active for Thursday's loss to New England, but didn't play. And, oh yeah, the Lions are 2-9 and have lost an NFL-record 26 consecutive road games. They haven't had a winning season since Best was in third grade. They haven't won a playoff game since just before his second birthday.
How's Barry Zito's locker looking now?
"I'm kind of waiting for the season to be over to even think about that," Vereen said of his decision. "The most important thing to me right now is getting to a bowl game."
Good answer. That said, he does have a grasp of the process.
"You can't really tell the future, if anyone is fortunate enough to go to the NFL, what team they go to," he said. "Jahvid was in a very fortunate position. He went, got picked in the first round. His team is struggling, but I mean he loves the NFL. He's having a good time."
Smart young man, that Vereen. He knows there is no controlling the mechanics of the draft. So this decision isn't about where he lands in the NFL; it's about weighing the qualitative experience of college life against the uncertainty of his professional destiny.
Let's be real -- Best's plight isn't likely to sway Vereen given the one enormous advantage the NFL has over college: In most cases, it pays better. Still, the appeal of school spirit and rank amateurism is enough to make some players think twice. Recall that an NFL-ready Peyton Manning opted to return to Tennessee for his senior season. And there was, uh, we'll get back to you.
So will Shane Vereen, most likely with the news he'll be seeing us on Sundays.
Contact Gary Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.