With just four years of eligibility under each student-athlete’s belt, it’s rare for a collegiate name to stick for more than a few years. After all, there’s a freshman class and a handful of transfers seeking to make an impression every year as summer training transitions into fall practices.
That’s the case in Berkeley at Cal football’s fall camp, where players have been battling each other for reps while the entire roster has improved as a group over the past two weeks. With a combination of standout play and fresh charisma, a variety of new faces have worked their way into the mix.
“I’m really pleased with what (the newcomers) are doing,” said head coach Justin Wilcox. “We’ll see how many of them help us right away. There are certain guys who are sticking out in terms of things they can add physically.”
While the Bears’ receiving core is looking a little thin after the unexpected departures of Demetris Robertson and Taariq Johnson in addition to the graduation of Jordan Veasy, a trio of new receivers has made its case for playing time throughout fall camp.
Michigan transfer Moe Ways — the biggest body on the WR section of the depth chart — has impressed coaches and teammates alike with his poise and knowledge of the game.
But it’s been a pair of freshman that has really turned heads in the early going within wideouts coach Nicholas Edwards’ group of players — speedy Nikko Remigio and crafty Ben Skinner. While their playing time come September will likely remain capped, with several veterans holding down starting spots in the slots, both Remigio and Skinner know that their contributions at this stage in their careers is evident during both games and practice.
It doesn’t hurt that those veterans are prime examples to follow for their curious minds.
“I’m extremely committed to what I’m doing, and I’m very interested, almost curious, in getting better every single day,” Skinner said. “I know I’m not the best person out there. I know that I can be better, so I like to play like the people I’m looking up to. I have about five or six receivers who are veterans and I can look at how they operate.”
Under center, the Bears remain steady with four redshirt quarterbacks who have at least one year of experience under offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin’s system — junior Ross Bowers, sophomore Brandon McIlwain, freshman Chase Garbers and senior Chase Forrest.
That leaves true freshman Robby Rowell — who hails from nearby Lafayette and Acalanes High School — as the presumptive scout team quarterback and potential future predecessor who will use this season to develop at the collegiate level.
“The whole quarterbacks’ room has really taken me under their wing,” Rowell said. “There are a lot of really nice guys, really just trying to help the team out in any way they can. They’ve helped me learn the plays and what it takes to be a college-level quarterback.”
With redshirt senior Patrick Laird entrenched as the clear-cut starter in the backfield, a handful of younger tailbacks have been battling for practice reps when Laird is out of the fold.
Redshirt junior Alex Netherda, redshirt sophomore Derrick Clark and redshirt freshman Biaggio Ali Walsh have an edge in familiarity, but a lack of experience hasn’t stopped junior college transfer Marcel Dancy, freshman Johnny Adams Jr. and freshman Christopher Brown Jr. from making an impact when given the chance.
Dancy, a transfer from nearby Laney College in Oakland, knows as well as any newcomer how prized his opportunities are.
“Recruiting was full of a lot of conversations about offering me, but a lot didn’t follow through because of different situations,” Dancy said. “I was definitely blessed to receive that call from Cal, to get the opportunity of a lifetime, and will use that opportunity to the best of my abilities.”
Also hailing from Northern California is Granite Bay’s freshman linebacker Evan Tattersall. The inside linebackers have grown immensely under the guidance of new associate head coach and position coach Peter Sirmon, a seasoned veteran himself who has smoothed out the transition for first-year players.
“I’m really quick to learn on basic stuff,” Tattersall said. “Out of the 14 days or so that we’ve been in camp, I’ve picked it up pretty well for only knowing things for about two weeks, but I still have a lot to go from there.”
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in the same way, it takes a team to achieve a winning season. Whether their names and faces are on the field on opening day, these new faces and more will be critical to Cal’s success moving forward.