Hidden Gem: How Valentino Daltoso’s leap of faith landed him at Cal football

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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There is a small, hidden gem in the town of Lewiston, Idaho — Waffles n’ More. The locals will tell you in convincing fashion that the 45-minute wait outside in the diner’s jam-packed parking lot is absolutely worth the fluffy breakfast staple topped with everything from lemon meringue pie filling to s’mores.

Just up the street from the mom-and-pop breakfast hub is the Red Lion Hotel, which stays busy during the fall season by hosting most of Washington State football’s out-of-state opponents. Geographically, it is more time-efficient for teams to stay in Idaho and cross the state border into Cougar territory — a strong affirmation of the small-town nature of southeastern Washington and much of Idaho.

If you take about a five-hour drive south from Lewiston — just a tad shorter than the trip from Berkeley to Los Angeles — you’ll find yourself in the state’s capital of Boise, the hometown of Cal left guard Valentino Daltoso.

In Cal football’s showdown against No. 8 Washington State earlier this month, Daltoso had a personal fan base in the stands cheering for him at Martin Stadium. Some made the drive from Boise. Some came from Idaho State University. One came from Seattle. Many of his fans — the majority of whom are his closest friends from high school — are a testament to the charismatic and warm personality that Daltoso embodies.

From his teammates and coaches to his family and friends, Daltoso is universally loved.

“His personality, … it’s kind of addicting,” said Daltoso’s former high school coach Bob Clark. “People want to be around him.”

During Cal’s road trip to Washington State University, Daltoso had to set the record straight for his teammates — many of whom hail from the sunny, overcrowded cities of Southern California — that, yes, he was from Idaho, but not “this” Idaho.

Daltoso didn’t hail from the meccas of high school football — California, Texas, Florida — rather, he grew up alongside the famous blue turf of Boise State, where many big-shot Idaho recruits end up playing their collegiate careers. As Clark, the former Boise High School football coach, puts it, Idaho is a lesser-known pocket for budding football talent.

At Boise High School, Daltoso was a big body — smart and athletic with an incredible work ethic. If he had attended a California powerhouse such as De La Salle or Long Beach Poly, or a similar-style high school that diminishes scrutiny with a well-known history, perhaps his road to the next level would have been a more traditional one.

Despite Daltoso’s potential, he did not catch the eyes of big-time scouts and schools. Smaller Division II programs were, however, interested in having him join their programs. And as national signing day approached, it was seemingly more and more likely that Daltoso would accept a Division II offer.

But just before signing day, Daltoso attended a camp at the University of Oregon. In the college football world, Oregon has it all — the facilities, the fan base, the winning tradition, the far too many combinations of flashy uniforms.

At the camp, Daltoso met lauded offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who had spent more than 30 years with the Ducks. Most importantly, Daltoso impressed the coach with a unique combination of both size and athleticism.

While Greatwood noted that, at the time, Daltoso needed to develop his game and fine-tune his play, Greatwood saw potential in the young man from Idaho.

If you want to come walk on here, we have a spot for you,” Daltoso recalls Greatwood telling him.

Daltoso was stuck at a fork in the road — head to Division II football or roll the dice and bet on himself by walking on at Oregon.

He sat down with his parents. The choice he had to make seemed like an obvious one despite its risks.

“If I’m going to walk on somewhere, I am (going to go to) a Power Five, you know, go play in the Pac-12 and see if I can hold my own,” Daltoso says. “If it doesn’t work out, then, you know, so be it — I gave it my best shot.”

Behind the confidence of Clark, his family and, most importantly, himself, Daltoso took a leap of faith when he decided to continue his football career — proving that he was a hidden gem.

Daltoso took Greatwood up on his offer, and just like that, he was an Oregon Duck. He would go on to redshirt his freshman year and started at right guard in Oregon’s 2017 spring game.

But shortly thereafter, the same renowned offensive line coach who recruited Daltoso to Oregon — Steve Greatwood — had been fired.

When word got out that Daltoso would be transferring from Oregon to Cal, media outlets were quick to find their angles and publish their stories. The most compelling narrative surrounding the transfer was that Daltoso would be following Greatwood.

Karen Chow / Senior Staff

KAREN CHOW/SENIOR STAFF

The offensive lineman from Boise, who stood at a powerful 6’4’’, 310 pounds, was one of three transfers Cal football was adding to its program at the time.

“It was a little bit crazy, but you know, I felt really confident in making the decision,” Daltoso says.

The former Oregon walk-on, who bet on himself during the transition from high school Friday nights to Saturday game days, had also achieved the dream every student-athlete so adamantly pursues — he was on scholarship.

“(Daltoso) reached out and, you know, was just kind of was curious if there would be an opportunity,” Greatwood said. “We followed up on it and, yeah, it worked out great.”

After spending the majority of his career in emerald and gold, Greatwood joined forces with newly hired Cal head coach and close friend Justin Wilcox. Greatwood and Daltoso both became integral additions to Pac-12 North foe Cal, whose offensive line was running thin.

While Greatwood was a well-known face, a legend, some of the Cal football players were confused as to who Daltoso was.

“This is the guy?”

The offensive line room met Daltoso with puzzled looks when he first arrived on campus; freshman Michael Saffell was particularly perplexed. An answer to the confusion would not come until a few weeks later, when Saffell explained the situation to Daltoso.

In one article that detailed Cal’s three new transfers, Daltoso’s height was switched with long snapper Alonso Vera’s. Not having previously met Daltoso, Saffell and the other players had their eyes out for a short and stocky, 5’10’’, 310-pound offensive lineman.

“I was trying to see if you were wearing lifts or like what was going on,” Daltoso laughs as he recalls Saffell’s words.

The now-humorous confusion quickly wore off, and Daltoso worked his way into Cal’s starting rotation. Because Daltoso was a walk-on at Oregon, he did not have to sit out for a year per traditional NCAA transfer rules. He immediately got to work with Greatwood, eventually trotting out with the team’s starting offensive unit for 10 games during his first go-around with the Bears in 2017.

One year later, there is no confusion as to who Daltoso is. He has become a quintessential part of Cal’s offensive line family — one that has grown immensely under Greatwood’s watch and has helped put the Bears in a position to compete in a bowl game for the first time since 2015.

“I think he’s one of the coolest people I have met since I have been here,” said outside linebacker and housemate of Daltoso, Alex Funches.

Still, much of Daltoso’s production on the field (and that of all offensive linemen) largely goes unnoticed.

The role of an offensive lineman is one that is fundamentally crucial to the game of football — the big men up front constitute the most important position group on the field when a team is driving downfield in pursuit of the end zone — but it is one that lacks glamour and quantifiable statistics.

“It’s an old cliche — they don’t get any notoriety unless they screw up,” Greatwood said about the offensive line.

But there is also a beauty in the position. Offensive linemen are not the showy linebackers ripping metaphorical T-shirts off their chests after a tackle. They are not the wide receivers who spend handfuls of hours cultivating the perfect touchdown celebration.

The offensive line protects the quarterback, opens up the run game and consists of some of the most knowledgeable players on the team.

“It’s just nice to have that kind of mentality of guys who are not in it for, you know, the headlines, anything like that.” Greatwood says. “They just really care about their craft and want to come out and approach it every day — getting better.

The hidden gems of football, you could say.

Christie Aguilar covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @caguilarsports.