Making plays off the field: Austin, Morrison, Pitts embody criminal justice work

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Off the court and beyond the classroom, Cal student-athletes and coaches have been ambassadors of various communities from the moment they stepped onto campus for the first time. The criminal justice sector is no exception — these are just three of the numerous people within Cal athletics whose impact away from the playing field shines just as bright, if not brighter, than their contributions on it.

Jack Austin

Last Saturday, redshirt senior quarterback Chase Forrest took part in Cal football’s annual Senior Day festivities. Few players and coaches have been with the Bears for as long as Forrest has, and in his time at Cal, he has mentored and helped develop a number of starting quarterbacks, most notably future NFL star Jared Goff during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

It was 2015 when Forrest played significant snaps during the annual spring game, a contest that also featured one of the most impressive catches that few fans outside of the Cal football program have ever witnessed.

That catch and moment belong to former Cal receiver and special teams star Jack Austin — whose spring-game catch is noteworthy in and of itself but pales in comparison to the work he’s done in his community both as a student-athlete and throughout his life after football.

During his time at Cal, Austin made an outstanding effort to make a difference in the lives of people in neighboring communities. In 2016, he was nominated to the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List — an award given to a student-athlete who embodies community outreach and academic achievement — and served as Cal’s representative on the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his volunteer work at a number of institutions.

Among his numerous acts of kindness, he acted as a mentor at both Berkeley’s Washington Elementary School and the Boys & Girls Club of Oakland in addition to volunteering at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County.

It was at San Quentin — the oldest state prison in California — where Austin had the chance to support those rehabilitating from past offenses.

Austin also represented Cal at the 2014 APPLE Conference, a wellness and substance-abuse prevention event for student-athletes. Later that year, he kickstarted the “Stay Golden” wellness campaign in an effort to further promote a support system in which student-athletes could better connect themselves to campus resources.

Austin completed his degree in legal studies at UC Berkeley before serving as a medical technician in the East Bay. Now, a couple of years later, he continues the same mission he has always been in pursuit of — helping others — as a firefighter in Contra Costa County, a position he’s coveted for years.

Stan Morrison

The Pete Newell Award is a tradition unlike any other at Cal — an annual career achievement recognition awarded to a Cal men’s basketball alumnus who upholds the ideals and passions that mirror that of the late and great former Cal head coach.

Unlike some recipients, Stan Morrison was actually a player under Newell. After his stint at Cal, Morrison went on to have a distinguished career both in collegiate athletics and the criminal justice sector. After a successful professional experience competing for Real Madrid in Spain, Morrison played a key role as a coach and athletic director for several programs throughout California. He retired as athletic director at UC Riverside in 2011 after concluding his coaching career in 1998.

Off the court, Morrison has contributed 30 years as chairman at High Five America Basketball. The Southern California-based organization utilizes the sport of basketball to draw young players away from drug and alcohol addictions and gang involvement. He also worked for the nonprofit Olive Crest, an organization dedicated to protecting abused children and helping them relocate to safe homes.

In addition to being the 2017 recipient of the Pete Newell Award, Morrison’s list of accolades includes Distinguished Citizen of the Year, the Spirit of Light Award and the city of Riverside’s Arts Council Celebration Award.

Michael Pitts

While Morrison’s days as a student-athlete on the Cal basketball team date back to the 1950s, Michael Pitts is a name that may ring a bell for blue and gold fans from the early 1980s. The 7-footer was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs after his stint with the Bears but was destined for a career bigger than basketball.

Upon his return to the Bay Area, Pitts began a career working with troubled youth, specifically in the field of juvenile probation services. But his true calling came at the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility in Byron, California.

The facility, which houses 21 wards, was where the former Bear became a superintendent, working to better the lives of at-risk children. According to the facility’s website, the current program aims to improve treatment for troubled youth at the local level.

Pitts was honored as the 2016 Pete Newell Award recipient and still continues to make a lasting impact in the Bay Area. Whether it’s with juveniles or adults seeking a second chance in life, Pitts continues to lead a team of people at the forefront of prevalent issues.

As of 2016, he was a representative on the board of directors for the Youth Intervention Network. Based out of Antioch, California, the organization is active in partnership with the Antioch Unified School District in addressing the correlation between juvenile delinquency and truancy.

Josh Yuen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.