Built the Bynum Way: Camryn Bynum’s drive embodies Cal football’s new era

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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If you had met Camryn Bynum when he was a sophomore at Centennial High School, you might have had a hunch that he would be successful in life. Possessed with a keen, innate intelligence and an assiduous attitude, it was undeniable that the Corona, California standout had the tools to steer his life along a vast spectrum of potential avenues.

What you might not have guessed? That the thing he would go far in would be football.

Just five years later, Bynum is in his second year as a starting cornerback for a Cal football team rejuvenated under head coach Justin Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.

But this future in football wasn’t always guaranteed — it was something that Bynum had to toil for. In 2013, his frame was far from what you’d imagine for an elite football player. Listed at just 5’8” and weighing a meager 160 pounds, it’s no secret that Bynum was small in comparison to some of his peers.

Playing on the junior varsity team and earning minimal reps, Bynum felt that he could be doing more. That’s when, instead of waiting for a growth spurt to grace him with the necessary physique, he started to take matters into his own hands.

Enter Anthony Brown, owner of Ground Zero, a training company that works specifically with young players to endow them with the tools necessary to go further in their athletic endeavors.

“When we got Cam, he was a puny kid, … not very athletic at all,” Brown says. “But he had the eagerness to get better.”

Bynum began things with a basic regimen of strength and coordination improvement, which slowly morphed into a routine more geared toward his position — ensuring that he would have the speed and athleticism to go toe-to-toe with opposing receivers. Slowly but surely, the results started to show.

To those who aren’t Division I athletes, the routine sounds painful: being dragged out of bed in the early hours of the morning to train, attending school, going to practice and ending the day with yet another set of workouts. And then doing it all over again. But the routine was his life, and Bynum loved it.

“That’s where I made all my closest friends, training every day after school and staying at my training facility for hours and 7-on-7 season,” Bynum says. “Just that as a whole — training — is probably my favorite memory of all time.”

And all of that hard work paid off, leading to a senior season that saw him make 4.7 tackles per game and snag three interceptions along the way. Eventually, he caught the attention of former Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, and he showed no hesitation when he decided to commit. The mixture of great academics and football — along with a cohort of family in the Bay Area — made the decision easy.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing once he earned his place, though. With the coaching switch from Dykes to Wilcox, Bynum had to show the new staff why he would fit perfectly with Wilcox’s reinvention of the football program.

“I just knew that I couldn’t mess up and start on a bad impression,” Bynum says. “That was probably the most stressful part about it, but I saw the positive in it — seeing it as a new opportunity to get better.”

That’s one of the reasons that, throughout all of his time on the field, he’s stuck to just a single position — one that he’s become so familiar with, it’s almost like second nature.

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As a redshirt freshman in 2017, he played in every game for the Bears, tallying up 58 tackles in that time span. He’s a lethal tracker in the open field and has an acute ability to read the quarterback’s eyes, spoiling scoring opportunities left and right.

“(My favorite thing is) being one-on-one with the receiver, knowing that I put more work in than he did,” Bynum says. “So that’s what I pride myself on, just knowing that I put in the work. So when it’s me and him one-on-one, I have confidence in myself.”

Before Ground Zero, though, Bynum had another trainer in his life: his dad, Curtis.

After Pop Warner practices, Curtis would take his son to the park and make him run hills. And on days when he didn’t have practice, they’d be there too, training endlessly so that Bynum could improve his game.

His dad’s training was as mental as it was physical. They would watch Centennial High School games (Bynum’s eventual alma mater) Friday nights, studying some of the most competitive football in Southern California.

“(My dad) was the one that started training me at a young age, and even if he didn’t know that much about what he was doing, he was still trying,” Bynum says. “He probably influenced me the most, football-wise.”

That training mindset has stuck with him from the very beginning, seeping into nearly every facet of his game. Bynum not only trains his body, but he’s still just as focused on training his mind as well — watching and rewatching film in order to identify his weaknesses and eradicate them.

“He’s just constantly watching film, studying his opponent, sending his dad clips — they talk all the time about the techniques and how his opponent is going to be,” says Bynum’s mom, Jen.

Even at the collegiate level, Bynum continues to hone his game when he’s back home, calling on Brown to help him get in extra reps during his few breaks. It’s about reaching a level of perfection in his game that will allow him to consistently outperform the guy across from him.

“He’s really a critic of his own work, and that’s one of the things about him — he doesn’t want to get comfortable; he stays uncomfortable,” Brown says. “And that’s how you really grow — staying uncomfortable with the work.”

That level of competitiveness came to the fore last year in the Bears’ game against then-No.8 Washington State. Bynum, who had displayed solid defensive chops throughout the season, set the tone early with a pick on the Cougars’ first drive. Then, he did it again later in the game — this time in the red zone, as Cal upset Washington State 37-3.

“That’s what he has, he has the ‘it’ factor — and he built it,” Brown says. “He’s just getting better and better and better. And he’s stayed humble and coachable, and he’s stayed grounded. He has both feet on the ground while reaching for the stars.”

Bynum’s play against the Cougars was his standout performance, but since then he’s become a mainstay in the secondary. What he’s maintained through it all? A humble demeanor that makes it seem as though, amid the endless reps, he is the most easygoing guy in the world.

“I love that he’s just remained humble, and I love that the outside influences haven’t affected him,” Jen says. ”He’s on a mission, and he’s going to achieve it until he gets his goals.”

He has a fundamental understanding of football — a game in which the team is paramount to the success of its cornerbacks. He’s constantly encouraging those around him to train, and he sets an example that is all the more impactful because of his genuine nature.

“He hasn’t forgotten where he came from, and to him the next football player is just as important as he is,” Brown says. “It’s hard to find that caliber of unselfish. He’s worried about the greater need of the team. Cam knows that for him to grow, the men around him and the team around him has to grow.”

Needless to say, Bynum is no longer 5’8” or 160 pounds. But some things will never change.

At the end of the day, he’s still playing the game that he’s always loved. Only now, there’s no question about what he’ll be successful at in life.

“It’s a good feeling, knowing that I can be a leader out here and knowing that I’ve earned the respect of my peers to be able to be a leader,” Bynum says. “So it’s kind of like my hard work is paying off, being able to do my work and have people respect it and have people see what I do off the field. And that’s working on the field, too.”

Sophie Goethals covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @sophiegoethalss.