Catching up with Cal football: Winter update

Sunny Shen/Staff

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With spring camp just around the corner, the Cal football program is about ready to kick into full throttle. Although there are no real padded practices during this time of year, much of the team’s future is shaped in this part of the offseason, and the past couple months have set the stage for seasons to come. For those of you who haven’t kept up with the team since the Redbox Bowl, here is a quick rundown of what the Bears have been up to this winter.


Recruiting overview

With the 2020 recruiting class set — and a handful of them already on campus — Cal heavily invested in improving its offense, reeling in some quality talent across the board. Highlighted by highly touted 4-star tight end D.J. Rogers, the Bears are clearly trying to add athleticism to their receiving core. The class features three receivers who are at least 6’2” and a few others who can add blistering speed in recruits, such as Justin Baker and Mason Mangum.

The quarterback room will also have some added competition, as head coach Justin Wilcox was able to grab Jaden Casey, who held offers from the likes of Alabama and Indiana, while running back Chris Street will immediately push for the backup role behind Christopher Brown Jr.

On the defensive side, the Bears added talent to its secondary with the additions of Collin Gamble and Trey Paster, and upgraded in the trenches with tackles Stanley McKenzie and Ricky Correia.

Overall, the 2020 Cal recruiting class consists of 25 newcomers, who combined to give the program the nation’s 38th ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports.


Coaching changes

As most fans know, the departure of former offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin set off a chain reaction of other coaching changes on that side of the ball. First and foremost, Cal made waves with its hiring of Bill Musgrave, who spent the past two decades running offenses around the NFL. He engineered highly successful seasons with quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan and Derek Carr, so incumbent Cal starter Chase Garbers has a strong foundation to build off of his mini breakout in 2019.

“Bill has got a wealth of football knowledge. He’s an incredibly intelligent guy, but also just a great teacher,” Wilcox said. “I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve worked with people who have worked with Bill and they all say the same things.”

To bolster the offensive staff, Wilcox and Musgrave brought in some familiar faces to try improving a unit that ranked dead last in the Pac-12 last season. Aristotle Thompson, who coached at his alma mater Boise State with Wilcox, is set to coach the running backs, while Angus McClure will take over as offensive line coach. Both have been coaching college football for several years now, and will have the opportunity to return some experience on the side of the players, as all 11 offensive starters from the Redbox Bowl will be back for Cal.

On defense, Marcel Yates, another coach who worked with Wilcox at Boise State, will replace NFL-bound Gerald Alexander to coach the secondary, which has plentiful talent returning, despite losing both star safeties.

Yates, who played under Alexander at Boise State, said the two had a phone call which ended with Alexander begging Yates to replace him. “Man, you got to take the job at Cal — can’t nobody else run the room but you. You can’t leave my boys hanging,” Alexander said during their conversation, according to Yates.


Scheduling updates

Over the past couple of weeks, Cal hammered home the direction it believes it’s trending toward, scheduling future games against powerhouse opponents in the Florida Gators and Notre Dame Irish. The latter game will see many faces on Cal’s current roster make the trip to Indiana in 2022, where the Bears will compete in front of one of college football’s most dedicated fan bases. Notre Dame is consistently among the top teams nationally, finishing the 2019 season ranked No. 12 with an 11-2 record.

While the Bears will play only an away game against the Irish, Cal has scheduled an even more dominant opponent for a home-and-home series in 2026 and 2027. The Gators, who finished 2019 ranked No. 6, will host the Bears in 2026 before taking a visit to California Memorial Stadium a year later. The matchups will be the first between the teams since 1980, when Florida routed Cal 41-13. The Bears, however, have had success against SEC teams recently, taking home a signature win this past season in Oxford against Ole Miss.

Although all three games are quite a long way away, the fact that the program even scheduled these matchups conveys what kind of culture the executives believe Wilcox is building in Berkeley.


Other tidbits

Between former safety Jaylinn Hawkins’ departure to the NFL and the emergence of redshirt sophomore cornerback Chigozie Anusiem, the coaching staff has made the decision to move one of its most experienced players to a different part of the field. Senior Elijah Hicks, who previously played cornerback, will make the move to safety to fill the void left by Hawkins.

“He’s all into it now. I know he can be a dang good safety,” Wilcox said. “He’s physical by nature and he’s a really cerebral student of the game.”

Hicks already has the ideal body of a safety, and his aggressive nature combined with his man coverage skills have made the coaching staff quite excited about his potential at the new position. He played some safety in the Redbox Bowl, but only time will tell if the change impacts the defense for the better.

Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at [email protected].