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September 14, 2005BERKELEY, Calif. - Joe Ayoob is still the same guy off the field. He goofs around with his friends, shops for loud T-shirts and wins the occasional eating contest against his offensive linemen.
But when 15th-ranked California is at practice, the Golden Bears' starting quarterback has a new attitude these days. Ayoob's off-the-field joviality mostly disappears, replaced by a businesslike demeanor he never realized he had within him until two weeks ago.
"When I was named the starter, I thought, `OK, this is my team. I have to be an example for everybody else,"' Ayoob said Tuesday. "I really had to cut out all the joking around on the side. I realized that's the way it had to be at this level. It can't be fun all the time."
The attitude already paid off last week in a 56-17 victory over Washington, when he recovered from an opening-minute interception to go 17-of-27 for 271 yards and four touchdowns. After just two tumultuous games at Cal, Ayoob already feels more prepared for the Bears' tougher tests, starting Saturday against Illinois.
Coach Jeff Tedford also feels a whole lot more comfortable with Ayoob in charge.
"He matured big-time in the first week (of the season)," Tedford said. "He used to be a happy-go-lucky guy. He stood in the back, and every now and then you'd turn around and see him goofing off with guys or whatever. You don't see that any more. There's a whole different maturity now with him."
During his high school career and two seasons at City College of San Francisco, Ayoob was a true California kid: laid-back, upbeat and smiling through any conversation. He played with a similar spark, often taking chances or running with the ball simply to add more fun to the afternoon.
When Ayoob entertained Division I suitors last year after two strong seasons at CCSF, he used a few unusual criteria: Right along with playing time and national reputation, Ayoob evaluated how he would look in the school's uniform.
"A lot of football players agree with this: If you don't feel like you look good, you just don't get that good feeling about yourself," said Ayoob, who walked around campus Tuesday in a hooded sweatshirt covered by an oversized T-shirt with a gaudy screenpainted portrait of Al Pacino's iconic Tony Montana character from "Scarface."
"The better you look, the better you play. ... I like (Cal's home) blue, but we need to get a better game in those blues. Right now, I'm favoring the (road) whites."
But Ayoob's effervescent personality might have become a hindrance to his development under the structured tutelage of Tedford, who's known for the exacting standards and detailed planning required for the string of NFL prospects he has produced.
Earlier this month, the coach asked his new starter to take things a bit more seriously. Around the same time, Ayoob lost a training-camp battle for the starting job with Nate Longshore, who then broke his leg in the season opener.
Even after Ayoob went 0-for-10 while replacing Longshore in the opener, he had a smile on his face - but he was serious about improving.
"That's the way I've always been in practices," Ayoob said. "It was kind of an adjustment to get more serious during practice. It finally hit me how to be focused during the whole practice and not take plays off or start joking around."
His teammates have noticed. Ayoob is getting more respect on the field, particularly when the Bears saw his considerable skills in the win over Washington.
Receiver Robert Jordan was named the Pac-10's offensive player of the week after catching 11 passes from Ayoob for 129 yards and a school record-tying three touchdowns in Seattle. Ayoob was all business, even though he's still working on controlling his excitement after big plays.
It's all part of the maturation process - but don't expect Ayoob to be a grownup just yet.
He took offensive lineman Ryan O'Callaghan out for a few of California's famed In-N-Out hamburgers on Monday night - and he downed the equivalent of seven burgers along with a whole lot of fries, leaving the 360-pound O'Callaghan amazed.
"He's becoming a good leader for us," O'Callaghan said. "He knows that with Nate out, he's going to be a huge part of this team, so he's got to come through. I know he'll do it."For more coverage of the California Golden Bears, check out BearTerritory.net.