Avery Sebastian didn’t come to Cal to play on special teams and record nine tackles in his true freshman campaign.
He came to Cal as the No. 6 defensive back recruit in the nation, an early enrollee who underwent spring training with the Bears.
But Sebastian did come to Cal to find a family — to find a program that would mentor him and mold him into a leader both on and off the field.
Even if that meant accepting another role on the team.
His is a name that people knew even before he came to Berkeley. Despite bouncing between three high schools across two states, Sebastian was a highly touted recruit his senior year with juggernauts like Oregon and Michigan courting his talent.
But Sebastian eventually narrowed in on Cal. For him, the main selling points were the weather and the mentoring that Jeff Tedford and older athletes provided.
The biggest draw was Cal’s academic eminence. He wanted a degree in a hireable major as insurance in case football didn’t pan out.
His was a name that generated buzz that spring in 2011, but it faded relatively fast the following fall. He came off the bench in every contest save the Presbyterian blowout. But his stats were largely forgettable, and he’s been shunted to special teams so that teammates like Josh Hill and Alex Logan could fill the starting roles.
There’s no room for resentment as far as Sebastian is concerned. He stays humble in order to stay the course.
“He works hard at everything he does,” Hill says. “He gives 110 percent. You need guys like that on your team.”
Sometimes the frustrations pokes through — the thorn in Sebastian’s No. 4 uniform. But he accepts that he isn’t the best at his desired position.
In the end, the only thing that matters to him is the success of his team. He wants a hand in that success, even if it means redefining his role.
“I don’t like to be the person who complains,” Sebastian says. “There are a few people ahead of me who were better. I just have to be prepared.”
He makes his small contributions count: He logged unassisted tackles in marquee games against Ohio State and USC. And he’s proud.
Sebastian remains fiercely loyal to the team, even from the sidelines. He prefers a mental state of constant vigilance, should his breakout moment ever come. If a team meeting starts at 6:30 p.m., Sebastian is at the Simpson Center by 5:45.
There’s a selflessness to every action, an unspoken promise to sacrifice anything for the good of the team. He’s a Spartan warrior eager to die in battle — a modern-day martyr in the Charge of the Light Brigade.
After all, this is his family. Sebastian’s favorite moments are when when the Bears re-enter the locker room after warm-ups to watch rap- or rock-infused highlight reels and pump each other up.
He loves that teammates across all the positions mingle and bond. There’s a payback system of mentorship that the fiercely committed Sebastian naturally adheres to. When he hit the ground sprinting in those first few months at Cal, father figures like Hill took him under their wings.
“He knows the defense better than anybody,” Sebastian says of Hill. “He’s the most experienced. I learn from him. He kind of took my hand.”
Hill continues to influence Sebastian, instilling in him the need to be positive as both a player and a man. In order to preserve that system of mentorship, Sebastian has taken it upon himself this year to guide the new freshmen.
Because there was a starkly sobering moment when those new teammates weren’t certain about choosing Cal.
There was a rift in the team last March that Sebastian can’t forget.
It came on the heels of Lupoi’s sudden departure to Washington. Lupoi left in his wake not only a blindsided team but also a shocked fanbase.
“Everyone was split,” Sebastian says. “People were either sad or angry.”
Sebastian remembers Lupoi as yet another father figure, someone who balanced coaching with more personal mentoring for all the players.
Prior to his exodus, Lupoi was also depicted as the salesman of the Cal football program. Last year he turned recruits like Shaq Thompson and Jordan Payton into players whose arrival fans could eagerly anticipate.
When Lupoi bolted last spring, top recruits balked.
And then-freshman Sebastian took it upon himself to fix the mess.
“We’re always trying to make the team better,” he says.
So he called up the recruits or tweeted at them, something he remembers older players did to him when he was a high school senior deciding between schools.
“Our job as players is not to sell Cal but to inform them about Cal,” Sebastian says.
And he did, one by one. He told potential signees that Lupoi’s departure didn’t change anything. One man left, but the program still had its players and its stalwart head coach. The Bears still had the support of the student section and the Old Blues. Lupoi was one person out of a million, a crack in an otherwise unbreakable support system.
Sebastian kept that system intact. He ensured its survival.
And the close contact with the new teammates didn’t end on Signing Day.
This past fall he’s worked repeatedly with the freshmen defensive backs. He mentors them in the area he saw the largest improvement for himself this season: the plays. By critiquing the new teammates individually on everything from coverage to backpedaling, Sebastian helps them build “a complete package.”
Sebastian uses lessons on the field to instill values in the younger players that can translate to life after football.
“Through playing, you show heart, courage,” he says. “You have to really be resilient. Show those traits and put fear in the other people’s hearts.”
That’s hard to do when he’s not seeing major playing time.
But there’s a faint light at the end of Sebastian’s team-first tunnel vision. This past week, he took first-team reps; if he finally sees his name on the depth chart, it will likely replace Logan’s.
But the depth chart is just a list, something that can’t tangibly measure his commitment to Cal.
“A lot of people play for themselves,” he says. “You can’t play for yourself. I play for my team.”
Annie Gerlach is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].