Tosh Lupoi is an imposing presence not just because he is a former defensive lineman but because you know that even in casual conversation, his mind is on football.
It’s Monday afternoon: There is no practice today and Cal’s defensive line coach has taken time out of his weekly preparation to conduct an interview and do a photo shoot. From the opening introduction until the last photo is snapped, his demeanor is unchanged and his focus has not appeared to waver. Stoically intense, Lupoi delivers a firm handshake and stands with a posture that would impress even the most crotchety grandparents.
As Lupoi walks out of the practice facility, a colleague mentions that the Washington game in two weeks will kick off at 12:30 p.m., an announcement made earlier that morning.
“I don’t know who Washington is yet,” Lupoi says. “We have Presbyterian this week.”
Lupoi isn’t blowing off the statement, but he is also not kidding. The mindset right now must be Presbyterian.
Because, even when the team name is Presbyterian, the defensive line coach must keep improving his unit.
It’s the coach’s job to keep invigorating his guys. He knows that his defensive linemen will likely disorient, dismantle and pretty much dispatch the Presbyterian protection, so he’s going to want to make his guys attack again. And again.
And when he goes home, he’s going to actively recruit the next generation of Cal players to get them to come attack again. And again.
Because Tosh Lupoi is not merely energetic and intense. He is a technician aggressively utilizing his youth.
Tosh Lupoi is a 21st-century football coach. He is doing his part to build Cal the way this generation builds programs.
“We try and teach our guys that when football is done and you go into the work force that it is everyday,” Lupoi says “If you choose to sleep then your competitor is going to outwork you and get the edge.”
Lupoi experienced a full-time program fluctuation as a Cal player. Coming from high school football powerhouse De La Salle in Concord, Calif., Lupoi experienced the dismal one-win 2001 campaign under Tom Holmoe as well as the near Rose Bowl miss in 2004. Lupoi spent six seasons with the program because of a medical redshirt — he broke his foot three times — and signed up as a graduate assistant in 2006 when NFL opportunities did not materialize. Within two years he would become the defensive line coach.
“No question that there is a great passion for Cal from him,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford says. “Anytime somebody can play, be a graduate assistant and work into a full-time spot, you’re always proud of that as a head coach because you see somebody grow.”
Lupoi discusses how “fortunate” he is when describing seemingly everything about his rise through the Cal program. He feels fortunate to have played and coached under Jeff Tedford. He feels fortunate to have the opportunity to coach kids that are not all that younger than him. And that’s why he doesn’t let a day pass without working.
“We never want to have a stagnate day as a defensive line,” Lupoi says. “I want to live what I coach in trying to improve.”
If intensity and energy were his defining characteristics, Tosh Lupoi would not have already established himself as a household name in the fraternity of college football coaches and assistants.
Every college football coach — from head coach to grad assistant — has to outwork his opponent and bring palpable energy on a daily basis. And to work as a college football coach, one must recruit actively and effectively.
Newly turned 30-year olds aren’t usually the ones being labeled recruiting “aces” and called “integral” parts of coaching staffs, but Lupoi has already seemed to pass the “up-and-comer” label at least when it comes to bringing kids into the program.
In the college football community, Lupoi has picked up somewhat of a larger-than-life reputation as a recruiting giant responsible for every top-tier recruit that Cal signs. He was Rivals.com’s Recruiter of the Year in 2010 and was the youngest coach on ESPN.com’s list of top 25 recruiters in 2011.
Both Lupoi and Tedford are quick to dispel the notion of Lupoi being a recruiting giant because they know the efforts of their colleagues and peers. However, there is no denying that Lupoi has an energy that is drawing players — not just defensive linemen — into the Cal program.
In years past, hearlded recruits like Keenan Allen, Chris McCain and Viliami Moala would have been lost to higher-profile programs such as Alabama, Auburn and USC. Lupoi was identified as a lead recruiter for all three future Golden Bears.
Tosh Lupoi is an innovative recruiter, but he doesn’t laud himself on it. Besides, recruiting is only some of the battle. Some would argue it is most of the battle these days, but that doesn’t mean that these kids will not hit in practice. Hit and hit hard.
When talking to his linemen and his head coach, people emphasize Lupoi’s energy. Why overanalyze it?
Energy and effort every single day. That’s defense. That’s football.
His fourth season as the defensive line coach, Lupoi has already had two defensive linemen — Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan — drafted in the first round and the younger generation of Cal pass rushers and run stuffers may have a few potential first round picks on the way.
“He’s coached us all so much. It’s crazy,” senior Ernest Owusu says. “What the younger guys are doing is nothing compared to what me, Trevor (Guyton) and KP (Kendrick Payne) were doing when we got here. The sky is the limit for them.”
Tosh Lupoi is pushing his kids. Not pushing them over or pushing them out. He is trying to draw out technique with the intensity needed to last 60 minutes. During practice, that means pushing them a little bit more.
“Once you step in there …” Owusu trails off and laughs. “If you were to step in and interview him during practice it would be completely different. It’s like a light switch.”
Tosh Lupoi coaches defensive linemen. He coaches intensity, ferocity and aggressiveness and he’s at an age where he is naturally reaching his students because of his vigorous youth. And he’s still building and won’t be stopping anytime soon.