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Cal Football: Freshman Lu-Magia Hearns III Playing Beyond What Even He Expected

Corner has shown maturity and an understanding of how hard he needed to work.

No one was predicting this for Lu-Magia Hearns III when the season began.

No one knew he’d become a starter by the fifth week of the season.

Certainly no one envisioned his performance in the Big Game, where he intercepted a pass and recorded four pass breakups, helping the Bears engineer a 41-11 rout of Stanford and earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors.

The first-year cornerback from De La Salle High has exceeded everyone’s expectations, starting with his own.

Asked if he thought all this wold come his way as a college rookie, Hearns conceded, “I was always hoping for it but, honestly, no.”

Defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon wasn’t sure, either.

“You never really know what to expect, in my experience, with new players,” Sirmon explains in the video at the top of this story.

But there is a common thread in young players who emerge quickly, and Sirmon has seen it in Hearns.

“Players that I’ve been around that have success, the No. 1 quality that they have possessed is maturity. They can handle the transition from high school or junior college into the collegiate setting.” Sirmon said. “They can handle the academics, they can handle the social life, some of the ups and downs invariably when guys first join a program they’re buried in the depth chart.

“Some people can work through that efficiently. For some of them that’s a significant change from what the recruiting process would have led them to believe. Lu has been steady, Lu has been mature, Lu has been a consistent worker.”

Lu-Magia Hearns III vs. Sacramento State

Lu Magia Hearns III

Hearns says it didn’t come easily. He struggled with the playbook in fall camp, but older players helped him put in extra hours of learning and preparation.

In particular, he credits senior defensive backs Elijah Hicks and Josh Drayden for mentoring him.

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“They are both people that take a lot of pride in the things that go on on the team and they’re leaders of the (defensive backs) group,” Hearns said. “In meetings they’ll take initiative and get up and speak, recap about the week or tell us what we need to do as far as coming out victorious.”

Sirmon gave “a shoutout” to De La Salle coach Justin Alumbaugh.

“He came from a program where he understood what work was, he understood that things were not given but things were earned,” Sirmon said. “I think Lu exemplifies all those and he’s just continued to get better throughout the season.”

“It definitely prepares you not only for the football aspect but the mindset you have to have for the game itself,” Hearns said of his time at De La Salle.

Hearns is listed at 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, but Wilcox explains in the video above how he has learned to compensate for that.

“Lu is a great example of a guy who came in here and worked really hard. Each and every week, the guy gets better.,” Wilcox said. “He’s got tools. Lu’s got quick feet and he can run. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but for what he lacks in stature, his savvy and competitiveness are really impressive.”

In describing Hearns’ demeanor on the field, Wilcox alluded to former Cal star Camryn Bynum, now a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings.

“A lot like the guy we had here playing good football for us for a number of years, he plays with incredible calm. There’s no panic in his game. He under control,” Wilcox said.

Sirmon explained that Hearns has some traits beyond maturity that have allowed him to thrive early in his career.

“First of all he’s patient. He’s got good foot quickness and he’s got a good feel for route recognition,” Sirmon said.

Hearns says his confidence has grown throughout the season, not merely through his play on Saturdays.

“I practice with a lot of great receivers every day, getting good reps constantly and knowing I can compete on a high level,” he said. “Confidence definitely plays a big part in that.”

Cover photo of Lu-Magia Hearns III by Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo