“Day one” of anything is a paradox — utterly important, yet too early to really tell how things will play out down the stretch.
Moving parts — that’s really what day one of Cal football’s fall camp consisted of. From an experienced offensive line to a promising group of linebackers to a growing list of tight ends, it seemed as though the Bears were thrilled to be back in business. Energy, culture and hard work were tangible factors that the players could work on, though.
“There’s always really good energy, day one,” said head coach Justin Wilcox. “I guess if there wasn’t, that would be an issue.”
For some, this was their “last first” — the seniors’ last first day of fall camp. As redshirt junior quarterback Ross Bowers walked out of the tunnel, arm-in-arm with redshirt senior Chase Forrest, his sentiments radiated bittersweet joy as his teammate kicked off his final campaign. But for others, including 32 new faces on the field, their tenures as Bears are just getting started.
Wilcox, who is well aware of what it feels like to be the new kid on the block in Berkeley, is also aware that he will be diving headfirst into a daunting Pac-12 conference for his sophomore campaign. Still, he tries to block out the noise.
“We just don’t really focus on the other team; we have no control over the other teams,” Wilcox said. “So all we care about is what we’re doing on a daily basis.”
Yet if Cal wants to remain competitive against the tall Trojans of USC or a projected top-five program in Washington, it needs to normalize going the extra mile. After the day’s portion of work from 8:30 to about 11 a.m., a few players lingered on the field, getting in some extra reps.
The group included receiver redshirt senior Moe Ways, along with most of the cornerbacks — sophomore Elijah Hicks, juniors Traveon Beck and Josh Drayden, redshirt freshman Branden Smith, redshirt sophomore Camryn Bynum, redshirt senior Chibuzo Nwokocha and freshman Chigozie Anusiem.
Heart and hard work are two things that go a long way in a program such as Cal football and will be key for a team looking to make it to the postseason in 2018.
On the other side of the ball, an experienced offensive line is a key factor for the Bears, as they return all five starters from last season.
“We’re going to really emphasize the line of scrimmage — you know, on both sides — and running the football and playing the run,” Wilcox said. “And then playing good, clean football, you know, limiting the self-inflicted wounds.”
The gunslingers heading the offense were Bowers and redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain. In what could be considered a quarterback competition, Bowers is clearly the front-runner, largely because of his experience under Wilcox’s system in 12 starts last season.
“He’s a fearless leader, and the way he holds himself, even after those tough hits, even after a great drive, even after a bad drive — it’s constant,” said senior offensive lineman Patrick Mekari about Bowers. “You want to block someone, you want to work for someone like that.”
Among the four competing passers eyeing a rise up the depth chart, however, McIlwain — with his poised and dynamic run game — seems to have established a presence over Forrest, redshirt freshman Chase Garbers and freshman Robby Rowell.
One fall camp day down, 13 to go, with action resuming tomorrow.
Christie Aguilar is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].