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Monday, January 3, 2005
Updated: January 4, 12:15 PM ET
Quarterback helped resurrect program

Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. -- California quarterback Aaron Rodgers will skip his senior season to enter the NFL draft, capping his impressive two-year transformation from a junior college star to a top pro prospect.
Aaron Rodgers
A big, accurate arm should make Aaron Rodgers a first-round pick.

"I just feel like it's too big of an opportunity to pass up," Rodgers said Monday. "I'm looking forward to competing with the other quarterbacks for a chance to make an NFL team, and I'm fulfilling a childhood dream."

Under the tutelage of coach Jeff Tedford, Rodgers showed the talent and skill of a future NFL star in just two years with the Golden Bears, whose season ended last week with a 45-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.

Rodgers passed for 2,566 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, his only full year as Cal's starter. He is seventh on Cal's career passing yardage list with 5,469 yards.

Tedford supported Rodgers' decision, particularly after consulting with several experts and former players who believe Rodgers could be the first quarterback taken in April, probably going high in the first round.

"The opportunity that he has doesn't come around all the time," Tedford said. "Any time you're going to be the first or second quarterback taken, you've got to take a strong look at it … and the financial rewards are tremendous for your family and your future."

Rodgers signed with Cal after one year at Butte Junior College in his native Chico, and started the Bears' final 10 games last season. He passed for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing more than 60 percent of his passes, throwing just five interceptions and leading Cal to a victory in the Insight Bowl.

This season, Rodgers was the star of a Bears offense that set a school record with 492.4 yards per game. He had a better passing efficiency than Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, and he joined the Southern California star on the Pac-10's first team.

Rodgers' numbers declined in the second half of this season when his top four receivers all were sidelined or slowed by various injuries, but he still led Cal (10-2) to its most accomplished season in a half-century. The Bears achieved their highest ranking since 1952 and went unbeaten at home for the first time since 1950.

Rodgers also helped his pro stock by playing his best game against top-ranked USC. Though the Bears lost 23-17, Rodgers completed 23 straight passes and got his team within a few yards of the possible winning touchdown in the final seconds.

After Cal's 41-6 victory over Stanford in the Big Game last November, Rodgers was carried off the field on the shoulders of his fellow students. He called it a high point of his life.

"It's been thrilling to me to see the change in Cal football over the past two years," Rodgers said. "I enjoyed every moment at Cal. The school was tough, but I've enjoyed each and every moment on the field."

After a brief vacation at home, Rodgers plans to begin preparations for pre-draft workouts and camps. He hasn't chosen an agent yet.

With a strong arm, excellent mechanics and plenty of field smarts, Rodgers' game seems well suited for the NFL. He's the latest standout produced by Tedford, who masterminded the development of first-round picks Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, David Carr and Trent Dilfer.

"He's as good as any of them," Tedford said. "He has all the physical abilities you could want, and the maturity and mental [acumen] he has shown is really something to see."

Tedford already prepared for life without Rodgers by signing Joseph Ayoob, the state's top junior college quarterback, last month. Nathan Longshore, a well-regarded high school prospect who redshirted this season, also returns.