BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -Justin Forsett runs the ball with a wide-eyed urgency that reminds many of Barry Sanders at his frantic finest, yet No. 3 California's top tailback has a patient perspective when he's out of pads.
When Notre Dame pulled its scholarship offer to Forsett out of high school, he didn't panic. He spent the next three years waiting to get to the front of Cal's uninterrupted line of 1,000-yard rushers, but Forsett didn't jump ship or rock the boat.
Forsett was patiently committed to Cal - and his wait has been spectacularly rewarded this season, when he became the offensive heart of the highest-ranked Golden Bears (5-0, 2-0 Pac-10) in 55 years.
``Being a running back at Cal, your dream is to be the starter, and I'm finally getting that opportunity,'' Forsett said. ``Now I feel a responsibility. I'm responsible now for the running game, so it's my responsibility to be productive, to be consistent and to lead the guys. I take it seriously.''
The compact tailback's teammates call him Tex, both for his home state and his laconic, cowboy demeanor. There's nothing laid-back about his play: Forsett is eighth in the nation with 585 yards and has scored nine touchdowns - at least one in every game - with tenacity, steady leadership and a remarkable knack for getting Cal's toughest yards in difficult times.
Forsett did it in the opener against Tennessee, rushing for 156 yards in the Bears' redemptive win. He did even more against Louisiana Tech, returning to the game late to finish with 152 yards and three touchdowns that visibly reminded his young teammates about every snap's importance.
And he did it again in Cal's 31-24 win at Oregon last weekend, rushing for 101 gritty yards and scoring two fourth-quarter TDs, including the decisive points with 3:11 to play.
``I haven't had many guys who do their jobs as well as Justin, whatever that job may be,'' coach Jeff Tedford said. ``He's been a huge part of every year he's been here, even when he wasn't the featured guy. There's never been any concern about Justin being in an every-down role. He's a great player, just a real smart, competitive kid.''
Forsett is finally getting the attention that goes with the starting job, but his teammates claim he's too grounded in team play to really exploit it. After all, he even claims to love blocking more than carrying the ball.
``Tex makes everything we do better,'' right guard Noris Malele said. ``We feed off his strength, everybody on this football team.''
Tedford is best known for molding quarterbacks, yet his rushing attacks consistently are among the nation's best. He produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his first five seasons at Cal: Joe Igber (2002), Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), J.J. Arrington (2004) and Marshawn Lynch (2005 and 2006).
Though Forsett is focused on Cal's drive to stay in the national title hunt, he also realizes he's the link to a growing legacy at his position. He regularly talks to Lynch by phone and exchanges text messages with Echemandu.
``Those guys are great running backs and great people,'' Forsett said. ``You can learn everything you need to know just by talking to them.''
He's also preparing the next men up in the line. Forsett roomed with freshmen tailbacks Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen in training camp, instilling good work habits in Tedford's elite prospects - and he even assigned them goofy nicknames: ``Jahvid the Jet and Shane the Train,'' he said with a grin.
Forsett is just 5-foot-8, but his speed and elusiveness earned him the nickname ``The Truth'' back home in Texas. He patterned his game on Sanders after seeing a few Detroit Lions games on Thanksgiving.
``I remember I didn't like the team. I just loved to watch him run,'' the Dallas Cowboys fan said. ``I remember from the first day I played Little League football, everybody was talking about me being like (Sanders). I wanted to be that guy. His resilience when he was running - he was going to make it any way he had to.''
But Forsett was small enough out of high school to scare some schools - including the Fighting Irish, who apparently decided he would take a beating in big-time football. Tedford stumbled upon Forsett's tapes late in recruiting and eagerly signed him, even with the vaunted Lynch in the same class.
Forsett's elusiveness was a sharp change of pace to Lynch's power over the past two seasons. Forsett even rushed for 999 yards in 2005, with an eye-popping 7.6 yards per carry.
But with Lynch now breaking tackles for the Buffalo Bills, Forsett has focused on delivering hits this year. He took up Pilates and added 10 pounds of muscle to his already strapping frame over the summer.
``I like to make people miss, but I've learned from the guys around me to add more power to my game,'' Forsett said. ``Then I'll catch some passes and do things that people don't expect out of me. I haven't heard anything about the Heisman. I'm more of a team-oriented guy. If we get to the national championship, that's what's exciting to me.''

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