The One That Got Away: How Luc Bequette turned rejection into an adventure

Sam Albillo/Staff

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he University of Arkansas campus lies just a few hundred miles from the state’s capital of Little Rock, just a morning’s trek along Interstate Highways 40 and 49. It’s a drive familiar to Cal defensive lineman Luc Bequette, whose family history with the Arkansas football program dates back multiple generations.

Bequette’s grandfather, George, was the trendsetter — the first of the family to don cardinal and white. A few decades later, Bequette’s father Chris and his uncle Jay both followed in their dad’s footsteps, competing for college football legend Lou Holtz in the early 1980s.

And then came his cousin Jake, who, as a defensive end for the Razorbacks, became a third round pick for the New England Patriots, and enjoyed a short-lived NFL career that included a Super Bowl ring in 2014.

“Every team my dad, grandpa, uncle and cousin played on at Arkansas. They all had great teams and went to really big bowl games, and were all on top-ranked teams,” Bequette said. “That’s something that I always wanted to be a part of and join their group.”

It only made sense for Luc, a talented and versatile lineman from Little Rock, to follow in his family’s footsteps and become the next Bequette to run onto Razorback Stadium’s field come football season.

So how did the grandson, nephew, cousin and son of Arkansas greats end up in Berkeley? Make no mistake — Bequette has all but made sure that the Razorbacks whiffed on him.

“Arkansas was definitely my dream school, obviously, with the family connections,” Bequette stated. “For whatever reasons, they didn’t think I was good enough to get an offer. I came out to Cal and just fell in love with it. Figured that was it.”

Although the current Cal coaching staff did not recruit Bequette, it’s safe to say his coaches have fallen in love with everything he has brought to the program since his arrival. After redshirting his freshman year and competing on the scout team against former Cal football star Jared Goff, Bequette won the team’s award for Most Improved Lineman. In 2018, when the Bears’ defense finished No. 13 in S&P+ ratings nationally, he took things a step further, earning the title of Most Valuable Lineman.

While the Bears’ linebacker and defensive back units command the majority of media headlines centered around the program, Bequette’s story epitomizes the defensive renaissance that is happening at Cal.

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s most young athletes do, Luc Bequette initially envisioned himself becoming a quarterback. Or, with his bigger stature and struggles throwing a football, a tight end. But when he ran over to the tight ends group at his first football practice as a ninth grader, his coaches at Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys had other ideas.

“Bequette! You’re a lineman, get over here!”

As he recalls, his coaches pulled him from the tight ends, and just like that his “career” as a pass catcher was over. From his first day forward, Bequette was a lineman — much to the delight of his dad, who started nearly 40 games at Arkansas on the offensive line.

“He was an easy kid to raise,” Chris said. “In our family, we don’t start playing football until we’re ninth graders. But he wanted to play college football, bottom line. From ninth grade on, he bought in, and he worked his tail off.”

To say Bequette comes from an athletic background is an understatement. His dad’s side of the family may rule the college football ranks, but his mom Debi Thomas takes things up a notch. As a figure skater, Thomas won bronze at the 1988 Olympic Games, becoming the first Black athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.

Talk about having big shoes to fill.

“I’m definitely blessed to have good genes with my mom and everyone on my dad’s side of the family,” Bequette said. “At the same time, it is kind of a lot of pressure living up to what my mom did — being at the top of her game.”

When Bequette wasn’t at school or playing video games with his friends, he was out on the practice field working on his craft. But football — and mastering the art of defensive end — didn’t come first when it came to athletic endeavors.

You name it, he played it. Starting at age four, Bequette was an avid baseball player who blossomed as a young basketball star during early adolescence. He also gave competitive swimming a try at a young age, and still plays golf with his dad in their free time.

It was his football dad who nudged him into wrestling to prepare him for the physicality of football, and he spent his spring seasons balancing baseball with track and field — emphasis on track.

Standing at more than 6 feet tall and built like a lineman, you might guess that he was solid in the shotput and other field events.

But the 100 meter dash and 4×100 meter relay events? Yup, he was fast enough to compete in those too. And his team was pretty darn good at it.

“Our 4×100 team went to state, and we could’ve placed, but our fastest guy ended up getting hurt a couple of days before the meet,” Bequette said. “I think I got second in state for 7A (in shotput) and then did baseball at the same time as that.”

When it was all said and done, however, Bequette’s desire to play college football took priority over all else. His dad was there to challenge his footwork, break down film and naturally pull some strings to get him on Arkansas’ radar. As an offensive and defensive lineman in high school for coach John Fogleman at Catholic, Bequette’s talent and background presented a solid case.

All that was left was a phone call to the Bequette household.

Sam Albillo / Staff

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hat call from the University of Arkansas never came. While some interest existed between Bequette and Arkansas coaches, it was clear that the Razorbacks were reluctant to offer Luc the same deal his other family members received.

Neither Bequette or his dad envisioned him playing college football on the west coast. But when the dust settled, it was clear that scholarships from Cal and Vanderbilt would be prioritized over a preferred walk-on offer from Arkansas, family namesake or not.

Three words Bequette uses to describe himself include passionate (about football), happy (he loves to smile and laugh) and… adventurous. He could have chosen to attend Vanderbilt, which was closer to home and a top-tier school academically in its own right — one of his top factors when deciding between his options.

But Bequette has never been one to turn down an adventure, and his visit to Berkeley fueled his ambitions on and off the field.

“I remember when I was first getting recruited, (Cal was) hyping up the fact that you’re really about three hours from everything,” Bequette said. “As I mentioned, I love traveling and so that was definitely one of my main reasons for coming here.”

This summer, fresh off a year in which he graduated with a degree in legal studies and started all 13 games for Cal, he visited Yosemite National Park for the first time — the perfect escape for an athlete who describes himself as passionate, happy and, of course, adventurous.

Just a few weeks ago, he arrived for his final fall camp in blue and gold. The team did not have a nose guard on the roster. Last season’s starter Chris Palmer had graduated, and role players Siulagisipai Fuimaono and Aaron Maldonado were away from the team for personal reasons.

With a veteran’s poise — 25 starts and counting — Bequette was the obvious choice by defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to fill that void. In certain packages, he’ll transition back to the edge where he compiled a team-high-tying five sacks as a redshirt junior last fall.

But with the two nose guards still absent and true freshman Brett Johnson under his wing, Bequette has emerged as more than just a competent replacement for Palmer. The way he describes his new position? A new adventure.

“He’s got the physical toughness and he’s a veteran, so he understands what we’re doing,” DeRuyter said. “The technique is a little different (at nose guard), but he’s got the right attitude about things as well. He knows that we’re going to try and get our best 11 on the field, try to put the pieces where they fit and he’s a great teammate.”

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egardless of what position he’s playing, Bequette only knows how to compete at one speed. Just ask USC receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.

The date is Nov. 10, 2018. The scene? Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Bequette had once visited as a kid when Arkansas football visited USC.

The Trojans are leading the Bears 14-0 and threatening to extend their lead late in the second quarter. Cal, who has not defeated USC since the 2003 season, is once again struggling to generate offensive production.

On the flip side, the Trojan offense has taken advantage of rare miscues from the Bear defense and is on the cusp of taking a three-score lead into halftime.

That’s when Luc Bequette steps in.

On third down, quarterback JT Daniels hits St. Brown in stride, and the big receiver crosses inside the 10-yard line.

“I just ran as hard as I could and blew a lineman up and turned and chased the ball like we’re taught,” Bequette said.

Just as St. Brown collides with the initial defender, Bequette flies in, having run across the field from the weak side.

“As my dad says, just inflict pain and punishment every play, and I just tried to hit him as hard as I could,” Bequette said. “Luckily, the ball popped out.”

“Ball’s out!”

The entire Cal defense yells as St. Brown coughs the ball up. Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk pounces on the rock, and USC is denied the endzone at a pivotal moment of its season.

Bequette’s father, in the stands that night, is among the Cal faithful celebrating the key stop.

Final score: Bears 15, Trojans 14. Losing streak snapped.

“If you go back and look at that play, it was just about effort, hustle, where you could’ve given up, you could’ve quit, it was away from you, and he just kept going and going,” Chris said. “That’s the type of effort you love to see from Luc or any of those guys on that team, especially on the defense who have that same mentality.”

Bequette’s nine tackles (2.5 for loss), two sacks and the forced fumble are enough to net him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. With the win, Cal became bowl-eligible: a primary goal head coach Justin Wilcox established in year No. 2 at the helm.

As the program enters its third season under Wilcox and DeRuyter, fans are hoping that “third time’s the charm!” rings true for a team that has earned wins over top-15 teams in each of the last three seasons. Luc, who has grown from Arkansas’ forgotten Bequette to Cal’s top defensive lineman, is still playing with a desire to make an even bigger impact.

“My goal is to improve on last year and hopefully finish with more sacks (and) more tackles, and eat up more double teams so Weaver and the linebackers can make more plays,” Bequette said. “I’ve definitely been trying to get as good as I can at (nose guard), and I’m going to do whatever it take to help us win games.”

While not his choice, he’s the one that got away from his family tradition at Arkansas. Cal is stoked he did.

Josh Yuen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @joshcal2020.