LOS ANGELES — In recent memory, it’s been hard to picture a Cal football squad worthy of a sold-out crowd.
As Pac-12 Football Media Day kicked off early at 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, much of the Ray Dolby Ballroom was filled for Cal football’s interview session — though a noticeable number of seats remained empty, similar to games at California Memorial Stadium. Yet, on the horizon for the UC Berkeley faithful is a promising 2018 Cal squad that is likely to muster growing media attention and fan attendance come September.
The three men who took the podium for the Bears — head coach Justin Wilcox and redshirt seniors running back Patrick Laird and inside linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk — are all examples of a grounded yet determined attitude embedded in Cal football.
“We spend a lot of time talking about decision-making and how many decisions we make every single day,” Wilcox said. “The frequency of your good decisions — that’s what builds culture.”
With a bitter 5-7 taste in the Bears’ mouths, players and coaches are itching to push full steam ahead during fall camp. Wilcox, who enters an eagerly awaited sophomore campaign with Cal, says he’s been ready for about two weeks now, but he’ll have to hold out for just a few more days.
“I think that everybody’s worked so hard this offseason — everybody’s given so much, just with accountability and commitment to the work that we put in,” Kunaszyk said. “I’m excited to run out that tunnel with everybody; I feel like we’ve become a really tightknit group this offseason.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears head into their second go-around with coordinator Tim DeRuyter, and they are looking to build upon already enormous strides that have been made. Cal owns a promising core of linebackers — headed by the team’s active career leader in tackles and interceptions, Kunaszyk — in addition to an experienced secondary.
“For me to get here, I’ve always had to do more and more and more.”
Add to that a shifty offense that has remained resilient despite the departure of a few key talents, and under the radar may not be a bad place for Cal to be.
Fall camp will once again feature a quarterback competition involving last year’s starter redshirt junior Ross Bowers, redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain, redshirt senior Chase Forrest and redshirt freshman Chase Garbers.
No matter who owns the helm, the receiver options remain fairly deep, and the run game features household name Laird, along with budding talent such as redshirt sophomore Derrick Clark, who is looking for a breakout season of his own.
The Bears will take about 110 players into fall camp, where the battle for the depth chart and, ultimately, a starting spot in 2018, will begin.
“You can do the bare minimum, and it might be okay,” Kunaszyk said. “But if you want to be great. … I’ve never just done the bare minimum. For me to get here, I’ve always had to do more and more and more.”
With Cal football making strides in the right direction, the Bears are taking things one day at a time, and come September, they will take the season one game at a time.
“You can talk about the things that are important, but I’m much more concerned if we’re living those things than talking about them,” Wilcox said.
In addition to Cal looking to up its ante, the Pac-12 as a conference is also looking to revamp its mode of production.
The conference announced in a written statement its pilot plans to shorten games, with “year two of the innovative initiative to feature not only non-conference games on Pac-12 Networks, but also select Conference and ESPN and FOX Sports televised games.”
Examples of game-shortening elements in the program include restructured commercial and advertising formats, and reduced halftimes — changing from 20 minutes to 15 minutes. While there are multiple time-saving elements, not all will be implemented in each game.
Another new feature of 2018 coverage will be the implementation of the “Pac-12 Football Pregame Show,” which will be hosted by Pac-12 anchors. Pregame festivities will consist of an hourlong program broadcasted live from a given school, with stops being made at all 12 universities.
Lastly, the conference will look to boost its coverage with features series such as, “The Drive,” which will focus on key storylines from the 12 programs, and the “Pac-12 Playlist,” which will provide short clips, including updates and coverage of the day’s news from within the conference.
Christie Aguilar is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].