Somebody needs to tell sophomore cornerback Elijah Hicks that kickoff weekend is still more than two weeks away.
With the Cal football defense attempting to keep redshirt junior quarterback Ross Bowers and company out of Memorial Stadium’s north end zone during the final stretch of practice, Hicks’ loud presence sent shock waves through the secondary.
Whether his side succeeded in stifling the offense or not, the sophomore starter kept his intensity up with a series of yells, shouts, and a combination of trash talk and encouragement.
“Energy is contagious,” Hicks said. “If the defense can feel you, understand where you’re coming from and see the passion that you bring to the table, it’s easy for the next player to feel that energy.”
On day 11 of Cal football’s fall camp, Hicks stood out with his play and his vocal cords, picking off Bowers during the 7-on-7 drill and breaking up a number of other passes thrown down the sideline throughout Wednesday morning’s session. With 17 days until North Carolina arrives for the Bears’ opener, Hicks knows how vital consistency is during the tail end of camp.
“We can’t pick and choose when we have good days,” Hicks said. “We need to make (consistency) more of our DNA because we’ll have two good days, but we’ll have that one day that is kind of flat. And then we’ll come back again and have two more strong days, so staying consistent in practice and bringing the same energy on Saturdays will be huge to what we do.”
During a practice that saw the secondary step up with big stops on multiple occasions, it’s important to reflect on how far this group has come after starting two freshmen last season — Hicks and current redshirt sophomore Camryn Bynum.
Defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander praised the growth that the secondary has exhibited over the past 12 months.
“(Hicks) is a guy that’s always brought that kind of energy, even as a true freshman getting thrown in there,” Alexander said. “But now you can kind of see the confidence and swagger, so to speak. The guys feed off of that. Cam (Bynum) is more of the silent type, but he feeds off guys like (Hicks).”
Elsewhere along the defensive front, redshirt junior Ashtyn Davis starred with a pair of interceptions from his strong safety position. Cal’s offense, which was spearheaded by Bowers, redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain and redshirt freshman Chase Garbers, practiced a large number of snaps in third- and fourth-down situations, which led to a handful of forced throws.
Despite a strong defensive performance, the offense got the last laugh of the morning, with Garbers finding freshman Nikko Remigio for back-to-back touchdowns to conclude the day. Remigio’s emergence as a playmaker amid a shrinking receivers core gives offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin another weapon in his back pocket — if not for this season, then optimally for years to come.
Speaking of emergence, redshirt freshman outside linebacker Ben Moos has developed into an intriguing piece of defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter’s arsenal. The former tight end has relied on past experience as a defensive end as he continues his transition from offense to defense, but he also credits DeRuyter and defensive line coach Tony Tuioti for his strides this summer.
“It’s obviously difficult to switch sides of the ball, but I had a lot of experience playing in high school on the defensive side, so that helped a lot,” Moos said. “From that last week of spring ball when I switched until now, I feel like I’ve been doing it for like a year. I feel great about it.”
With just a few fall camp practices left, another transition looms for Moos and the rest of the Cal defense — preparing specifically for their matchup with the Tar Heels on Sept. 1. For now, they’ll look to keep challenging Bowers and McIlwain during the final days of what’s been a friendly and exciting quarterback competition to date.
“We’re starting to get into our season, everyday deal, and we’re also starting to put people onto scout team, first team, second team and finding out who plays well together, so we’ll really start amping towards UNC next week,” said junior inside linebacker Evan Weaver.
Eleven fall camp days down and three to go, with action resuming tomorrow.