Justin Moye remembers the knots in his stomach and the insults he heard as he walked off the field a year ago in Knoxville.
Never had Cal played in front of a larger crowd (more than 106,000). Seldom had a Golden Bear team been more embarrassed on national TV. In what was supposed to be a season-opening matchup of national powers, Tennessee rolled Cal 35-18 and it wasn't that close.
Moye, the Central Catholic product and the son of a Golden Bear, reacted much like his team -- disappointed, shocked, humbled.
"I looked around the stadium and couldn't believe the feeling in my gut," he recalled. "The fans were yelling about how horrible the Pac-10 was and that the SEC was real football. It's kind of stuck with me all year."
Moye will release the pent-up frustration Saturday night when the Volunteers visit Strawberry Canyon. For he and his mates, it's payback time and a chance to regain nationwide respect.
The game carries even deeper meaning, however, for Moye, the product of Central Catholic who's risen from walk-on to contributing linebacker and special-teams star. He'll begin his senior season while his family and friends take their usual tailgating place at the corner of Channing and Piedmont near Memorial Stadium. That party will be led by Jeff Moye, Justin's father, the scrappy defensive back on Cal's Pac-8 co-title team in 1975.
The parallels are hard to miss: Both father and son were ex-CC Raiders, both annexed league co-titles at Cal and both threw their bodies around the field like commuters at rush hour.
"He just tells me to play every play like it's your last," Justin said. The advice was hard-earned. Jeff's career was abbreviated when he was struck by an East Bay motorist as he was crossing a street.
"Above everything else," Justin says, "my dad told me to not have any regrets."
Saturday night also will mark the first time in six years Moye takes the field without friend Byron Storer. In some ways, Moye is Storer's successor. Storer, who's trying to win a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was a fullback but forged his identity by doing the dirty work on special teams. Moye, a backup linebacker, follows the same M.O.
"Justin is a great team player and a great leader for our program. Byron had a lot of the same qualities," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I really believe that Justin can fill that role."
Moye started three games at linebacker last season, saw action in all 13 games, and totaled 23 tackles (nine solo). Watch him closely, however, when Cal punts, kicks off and returns kicks. One of Moye's primary goals is to forge an opening for a coast-to-coast return by Cal's exciting Heisman Trophy candidate DeSean Jackson.
Then again, the Modestan doesn't wait until game day to make his impact. Football practice, a dreary exercise by definition, often is spiced by Moye.
Senior running back Justin Forsett, whose locker stands next to Moye's, has both seen and felt Moye's intensity more than once. They're fellow seniors and together they jump to center stage at Cal. Moye bounces from Storer's shadow while Forsett tries to replace the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year Marshawn Lynch.
"Moye's motor is always running. He never takes a play off. You're never going to get a break from him," Forsett said. "He and Storer are two quiet, down-to-earth guys, but on the field there's a little Jekyll and Hyde going on. Byron was a borderline lunatic. He was possessed on the field and the same thing goes with Moye."
The two Justins actually are good friends. "He (Forsett) is going to be a beast. I can't wait to see what he can do as the starting tailback," Moye said.
Moye has added muscle to his 6-foot-1 228-pound frame. "He (Moye) has gotten bigger over the years," Forsett said. "He's got a six-pack now."
Abs aside, Moye will rely on his memory against Tennessee. He and the Bears responded to the Vols wipeout with eight straight wins and, eventually, a romp over Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl. That didn't erase, however, some unfinished business.
A long year of waiting is almost over.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.