Walking the walk: Trey Paster leads from the front

photo of Trey Paster
Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff

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hen he was 11 years old, Trey Paster ran at a youth track meet at Edwards Stadium, home of the Cal track and field and soccer teams. The old, water-stained artifact on the south side of Cal’s campus was Paster’s first glimpse at his future home.

Of course, he didn’t know that at the time. After the track meet, Paster and his family decided to explore Cal a little bit more, seeing as it was his first time visiting a college campus — at least that he could remember. 

His father suggested that they walk up to the east side of campus to see Memorial Stadium, a suggestion that was met with antipathy. 

“The family was like, ‘Why are you making us walk all the way up here?’ ” Paster’s father said. “ ‘What are you doing?’ You know, because it’s an uphill walk.”

Indeed, it is. The “uphill walk,” or trek, to the base of Strawberry Canyon from Berkeley’s Southside is not one for the faint of heart. But the Pasters soon found themselves staring out over the Bay from the top of the steps at the north side of campus. It’s a sight that strikes love into the heart of every Cal alum and fan at some point in their life. For Trey Paster, that moment came then and there. 

“He even told us that day, he was like, ‘I’m going to go here one day,’ ” his mother said. “What’s even crazier is we said, ‘Why are you at the football stadium? You don’t even play football.’ ”

The now-6’2” linebacker didn’t seem like the football type at the time. When trying to express why she was surprised when her son took an interest in football, Paster’s mother mulled over her words before finally describing him as “not your toughest guy.”

“I thought honestly as a mom that, OK, he’s going to give it a try. Let’s just let him get it out of his system,” she said. “I thought, ‘He does not have a high pain tolerance. This is just not him. He’s not a full-contact type of kid. He’s pretty much a crybaby.’ ”

Needless to say, Paster proved his mom wrong. It should be said, however, that his goal was never to prove her wrong, or to prove anyone else wrong. He just likes to set his sights on something and then put his head down and work. He never once expected to be successful by accident.

And the young Paster had seen his goal — to someday enroll at Cal — and immediately got to work.

“Going back (home), I’m looking up ‘How to get into Berkeley’ and what kind of grades you need,” Paster said. “I didn’t even know what the SAT was in fourth or fifth grade. I’m asking my mom, ‘How do I get in? How do people get in there?’”  

Now, well into his second season at his dream school, Paster is a regular face at inside linebacker for the Bears after transitioning from safety last offseason. His is a story of making the trek up to higher ground and never once taking his achievements for granted. 

Case in point: Paster received his first scholarship offer from Nevada during his freshman year of high school but had no idea it was coming. A Division I offer seemed like a long shot, especially as a freshman. Paster thought at the time that it would take a few more years of experience playing varsity football at Buhach Colony High School in Merced to start getting looks from Power Five programs.

But at a 7-on-7 camp in Nevada, Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell’s offer to the young cornerback from Atwater, California, caught him totally off guard. 

Paster, his father and his travel 7-on-7 team had just been to another camp at Weber State in Ogden, Utah. An offer from a program like Cal was still very much the dream, but at the time, it seemed unlikely. 

“I wanted to go to Weber State so bad as a freshman,” Paster said. “That was one of the first colleges I’d seen, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. I want to go here.’ The coaches were talking to me, and I thought I was going to get offered.”

But Paster left Ogden empty-handed. The next day, he was at another camp in Reno. 

“It was the same thing. Coaches were talking to me, but I thought it was going to be the same thing,” Paster said. “I was thinking I wasn’t good enough to get an offer. I was like, if Weber State didn’t offer me, what makes you think Nevada’s going to offer me?”

When Norvell told Paster he had a scholarship offer to Nevada, he couldn’t believe it. 

“I had to make him repeat it,” Paster said. “It was just to make sure that he had said it. I was in disbelief.”

To be fair, he had only been playing football for a few years before receiving his first offer. He didn’t try his hand at the sport until he was 12, and, before then, it hadn’t even crossed his mind.

In fact, baseball was Paster’s passion as a kid — it still is. To this day, the former center fielder and shortstop plays and watches baseball every chance he gets. 

According to his father, the sophomore linebacker likes to go down to Evans Diamond, home of Cal baseball, to watch whatever’s happening on the field. 

When asked if he thinks his son sometimes tries to sneak onto the field and take batting practice, Paster’s father wavered. 

“I don’t know if he’s honest with us with that,” he said as Paster’s mother laughed. “But if there’s a way that he can swing a bat, I think he probably would.”

Throughout elementary and middle school, Paster played on one of the top youth travel baseball teams in the area, Backyard Sports Academy in Turlock, California. A number of his former teammates either have been drafted to the MLB or are at DI baseball programs. At the time, that was the goal: to earn a full-ride baseball scholarship and eventually play in the major leagues. 

Oddly enough, it was Paster’s track and field career that got in the way of playing baseball. During the spring of his freshman year, he had to decide between running as the anchor for his state championship-bound 4×100 relay team and playing for the varsity baseball team. Paster simply couldn’t disappoint his relay team and decided to focus on track and field and football exclusively from then on. 

If that was not impressive enough, Paster also went to the state meet for the long jump and still holds his high school’s record in the event. 

But Paster’s skill set extends beyond athletics. According to his mother, he was a talented percussionist, playing the quads and snare drum through elementary and middle school. In high school, he was heavily involved in the student council.

“He’s not big on talking about it,” Paster’s mother said. “He’s the type that’ll just say it once: ‘This is what I want to do.’ It really bothers him when people talk about, ‘I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that,’ but you’re not doing anything to back that up.”

Paster’s father coached many of his teams and said Paster’s action-oriented mentality is very much a byproduct of being so involved in sports. 

“There’s a saying me and Trey would use when we would be in the huddle,” his father said. “It’s not what you say — it’s what you do.” 

Now that he has achieved his initial goal of playing football on scholarship, an achievement that many in his community can only dream of, Paster has taken it upon himself to finally start talking about the grind.

As someone who has learned so much from his role models, he finds it important now to use his platform and story to be a role model for kids in his Merced community. He has made it a habit to visit his old elementary, middle and high schools to speak to the students there. 

“I talk to the kids, talk to the youth and tell them things I wish I had heard when I was their age,” Paster said. “A lot of those kids come from rough places, so I try to talk to them. I remember a few speakers I had when I was in elementary that stuck with me through life, and I’m hoping I can do the same for them.”

Paster also recognizes that inspiring words only carry so much weight. Sometimes just showing up makes all the difference. 

“Just them seeing me, that we come from the same city, that I went to the same school and sat in the same chairs, showing them that it is very doable is already big for them,” Paster said. “It opens up their eyes to what they can do in life.”

Aside from the speakers who came to his grade school classrooms, Paster has also found guidance in the words of several famous people. He’s less interested in their fame and wealth than he is in the insight they provide into finding success through their work. 

His all-time favorite athlete is former Yankees third baseman and MLB Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. A poster of Jeter climbing out of the stands at Yankee Stadium after diving headlong into the crowd to catch a pop fly has hung in Paster’s room for as long as he can remember. Paster said he likes to model himself after Jeter, who was nicknamed “The Captain” for being a leader and consistently one of the hardest workers. 

“I love Derek Jeter, Denzel Washington, Steve Harvey, Will Smith. … Those are guys that I wish I could sit down and have dinner with,” Paster said. “When I need quotes to live off of, I go to those guys.”

The impetus to give back now that he has reaped the rewards of his work is strong. Paster is already making plans to go back home and spread the word about a holiday food giveaway he wants to organize with leaders in his community. 

“The mayor is almost like family to me. Last year, he came over to my birthday party,” Paster said. “We do cleanups and stuff around Merced, any type of food giveaways during the holidays.”

 Paster has made a name for himself at Memorial Stadium over the last two years, but he has always been a beloved part of his Merced community. Now, as always, he focuses on the effects of his actions, never once expecting repayment for his work. 

It’s through his work and success that he’s come to understand just how important role models were to him and how much of an impact he can have with his actions. 

“That’s where Trey’s passion lies,” Paster’s father said. “Now that he’s a young adult, he’s come to that realization, and he’s really trying to grab a hold of that.”

William Cooke covers football. Contact him at [email protected].