October 15, 2013

CSUN's Breanna McCallum Blazes Own Trail

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. --- 

Every Sunday, people congregate for a ritual that has seemingly taken over the collective attention of a nation: the National Football League. Around the time Major League Baseball decided to cancel the World Series (1994), the NFL supplanted it as America's pastime and became a fixture in the national landscape and mindset.

Life in the NFL is a collision of exceptional athletes and controlled violence. Injuries, ranging from knees to concussions, are a frequent accompaniment to any post-game celebration or sorrow. That's why some former NFL players sometimes hesitate when asked if they would allow their children to participate in the game. The former players know what goes on in the trenches and between the lines.

For former Los Angeles Raiders running back Napoleon McCallum, nature dictated that he'd never have to make that decision. He and his wife, Yvonne, have been blessed with four girls and aside from the occasional PowderPuff contest, football was not in the cards for the McCallum household.

Just don't take that for meaning the McCallum children don't participate in sports. The couple's eldest daughter, Breanna, is a freshman midfielder for the Cal State Northridge women's soccer program and has made an immediate impact in her first campaign with the Matadors.

"Breanna is a great talent who is comfortable and dangerous with the ball at her feet," CSUN head coach Keith West said. "She has given us a great pop off the bench with her offensive abilities and her intelligence and ability to read the game speak to her impact on this team."

McCallum's journey to CSUN was one guided in part by her dad's successes.

"I told her the same thing I told her before she started high school: to be extraordinary, you have to put in the extra work to become better. That is why the word extra comes before ordinary," Napoleon said.

A running back at the United States Naval Academy, McCallum was a celebrated student-athlete during his time with the Midshipmen. He was a two-time consensus All-American and set an NCAA record at the time with 7,172 career all-purpose yards.

A 2003 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, McCallum played several seasons with the NFL's Los Angeles Raiders while remaining on active duty with the Navy.  Sharing the backfield with Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, McCallum's greatest feat came in a three-touchdown performance in a playoff victory over the Denver Broncos.

And then in the 1994 season, in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, McCallum's career came crashing down on a devastating knee injury. The doctors compared the numerous leg injuries he suffered to that of a car-crash victim.

So now the roles are reversed and it's Napoleon who sits on the sidelines while Breanna excels in her first season with the Cal State Northridge women's soccer program.  The transition has been challenging, but Breanna has adjusted well to the increased demands.

"Competing in Division I women's soccer is a lot different than club. It is a lot more competitive and a lot more is required. At this level, it's not just about skill, but who wants it more over the entire 90 minutes," she said. "I knew it was going to be tough, but I've learned. Talking to the older girls helps and being a part of this team has taught me a lot. Consistency, work rate and effort have to be there every time."

She scored her first goal as a Matador in a contest at San Diego and her second goal was as dramatic as anything her father accomplished on the field.

Trailing 1-0 to Houston in the waning moments of the Matadors' 2013 home opener, McCallum delivered the tying goal with one second remaining in regulation. CSUN went on to defeat the Cougars in overtime and McCallum had a game-winning assist on the play.

Of the play, Breanna said, "I just happened to be there in the right moment and knocked it in. I couldn't believe there was just one second left."

The soccer bug in the McCallum household is infectious and has seen all four daughters take to the pitch. Even Napoleon caught it and is now roaming the sidelines as a coach for daughters Sierah, age seven, and Jazmine, age five.

"One of our most recent contests was the most fun I've had as a coach," Napoleon explained. "The team is comprised of eight and nine year old girls competing in an co-ed under-11 league. I have developed a love for soccer and its intricacies."

"Even though he didn't play soccer, he takes the time to learn the game so he can help me or my sisters improve," Breanna added. "He's always calling me after practices at CSUN, asking about the drills we did or what Coach West talked about that day."

Like her father, McCallum aspires to play professionally. She is a proud supporter of the US Women's National Team and worked with Natasha Kai, a former member of the squad, during her days in club soccer. She also has a cousin who plays for the Boston Breakers of the National Women's Soccer League to further fuel that desire.

Ultimately, McCallum is thankful to have someone in her corner who understands the rigors and demands of being a professional athlete.

"My dad is a humble guy. I try and learn from him because I know he's already been to the level I want to get to one day," she said. "He helps keep me focused. He knows my highest goals would be to play professional soccer and he holds me to that."

As she continues her Matador career, Breanna hopes that professional soccer is on the horizon and in her future. Then, just like dad, she'd become the object of attention for the masses, whether or not the match is played on a Sunday.

by Geoffrey Herberg, Assistant Director of Media Relations

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