The name on the starting lineup was a surprise. The last time a true freshman started at receiver was two years ago, with the debut of Keenan Allen.
But Bryce Treggs, a four-star recruit and the No. 12 receiver prospect in the nation, banished any lingering skepticism 25 minutes into last Saturday’s game against Nevada.
Quarterback Zach Maynard arced a pass from the Wolf Pack’s 37-yard line up the middle of the field. Treggs, under single-man coverage, was already running toward the end zone. A yard away, he reached up and cradled the ball. Two more paces north and he stumbled helmet-first into the “O” in California painted in the end zone.
It was his first catch in a Cal uniform, and it put the Bears on the board.
Afterward, Treggs looked over toward the student section of the stands. In his very first collegiate game, he wanted to make sure that everyone knew his name.
It started with 100 passes each night when Treggs was 5 years old. Bryce’s father, Brian, would take his son out back and throw 100 balls before calling it a night.
“It was good father-son time,” Brian says. “It gave us time to talk about school, talk about girls, whatever. Just not talk about athletics.”
Once Treggs moved up from flag football to Pop Warner, the duo started running routes. Brian, a former standout Cal receiver, was Bryce’s first and primary coach. He expected greatness from his son and pushed his own sport onto Bryce.
“I told him, ‘Dad, the only reason I’m playing football is because of you, because you want me to play,’” Bryce says.
While his father pushed him on the field, his mother pushed him in the classroom. A teacher by profession, his mother expected paralleled success from Bryce in academics. There has always been the push from both spheres for Bryce, a relentless push-and-shove to excel and never settle.
That instilled determination propelled Bryce through his high school career at St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., where he consistently maintained a 3.5 GPA and was captain of the varsity football team his junior and senior years.
But the college offers rolled in long before. The first came in a verbal offer from Arizona State during his sophomore year, before he had ever played a minute of varsity football.
Treggs didn’t shrink from the scrutiny or psych himself out. He thrived in the spotlight; in his senior year, with recruiting eyes on him, he racked up 70 receptions for 1,377 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“There’s always a lot of pressure on you, because the people that you’re playing against notice you have offers,” he says. “So they’re always gunning for you so they can make a name for themselves off of you.”
Treggs possesses the easy confidence bordering on arrogance that comes with being branded elite from a young age. He updates his Twitter feed multiple times a day and regales a little over 3,000 followers. The posts are never particularly substantial; they’re mostly the quasi-private ramblings of a young adult who enjoys leaking tantalizing information when he’s bored.
He’s always been the best, and his natural talent and drive have pushed him to the top.
And while he says he prefers to lead by example on the field, he also set a cocky precedent in high school. He would frequently talk trash to opponents before games.
“Cocky is when you say you can do things that you really can’t do,” Treggs says, “I used to say things and then go do it.”
But coming to Cal was a sobering wake-up call for Treggs. He was quickly thrust into a lineup that put him on the same line as projected first-round draft pick Keenan Allen.
He looks up to Allen, as well as Cal alum and Eagles elite DeSean Jackson. But he doesn’t want to emulate them; he doesn’t want to be “the next Keenan Allen.”
Treggs wants it so that one day, when he’s playing in the NFL, people at Cal games will be proud to remember that a star like Treggs graced Memorial Stadium.
But he also knows that in order for that to happen, he has to polish his image on and off the field.
“When I’m done playing football, I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh yeah, he was good at football,’” he says. “I don’t want them to just say that. I want them to say I was a good person overall instead of just as an athlete.”
He’s already started the turnaround.
“I didn’t even talk trash on Saturday,” he says of the game against the Wolf Pack. “I was humble heem.”
Heem. For Treggs and the rest of the receiving corps, it’s more than a slang word; it’s a revolution. The receivers — Treggs, Allen, Chris Harper and Darius Powe — use it as a way to unify their small unit.
They saturate their Twitter feeds and conversations with it. Earrings become “heem-rings;” helmets, pure “heems.” They use it as a sliding scale to judge the success of a play — you’re either heem, or you’re not heem.
“It’s a positive thing,” Powe says. “He did a heem; he got a heem.”
But ask Treggs to define “heem,” and the answer isn’t straightforward.
“Heem could mean a lot of things,” Treggs says. “Heem could be an adjective, it could be a verb.”
Team on the heem.
— Trigga (@BryceTreggs) September 1, 2012
He can’t explain the word, but he can give an example: If he scores a touchdown and jukes the cornerback, then one of the receivers might congratulate him with, “Yeah bro, you gave ‘em the heems” or “You routed heem.”
It’s also a state of mind — the state of mind into which Treggs delves during a game. He prefers to remain goofy and relaxed on the sidelines so as not to get lost in nerves.
“If he’s serious, he’ll think too much and just mess up,” says Harper, Treggs’ roommate and Heem Team member. “Be heem, you got to be heem.”
Heem belies swagger. Treggs projects such an image; he throws around stereotypical jock talk when he’s relaxed. He says one of his favorite parts of the stadium is the jumbotron.
“When I’m scoring, I can see myself running,” he says. There’s no smile to betray a joke; he’s serious.
Yet Treggs still takes the sport seriously. It doesn’t matter when the game is or who he’s lining up against. For Treggs, every start brings with it a serious bout of anxiety.
Last Saturday, the nerves only dissipated after Treggs collapsed into the end zone.
A start like that is almost too Hollywood to believe. And Bryce’s dad was there to witness it. Watching his son score a touchdown for his own alma mater was easily one of Brian’s proudest moments as a parent.
“I’ve replayed that touchdown probably 100 times over the last few days,” he says.
Brian doesn’t know about the Heem Team; his son has yet to fill him in.
But that touchdown that he keeps replaying — that was pure heem.