The football season ended Nov. 25 with Cal’s loss to UCLA, leaving Cal with a 4-8 record at the end of 2022. But while the season may be over, our football coverage is certainly not. With the closing of the transfer portal Jan. 18, 2023, and national signing day Feb. 1, The Daily Californian’s sports editors are bringing readers a comprehensive update to the ins and outs (quite literally) of Cal’s 2023 football roster.
While Cal lost a significant number of its players to the transfer portal, it acquired its own soon-to-be valuable names. Will this be enough to get Cal a winning season for the first time since 2019? Join our offseason and spring ball coverage as we prepare for yet another season of Cal football.
Cal’s headline-grabbing transfer is Sam Jackson V, the frontrunner for the Bears’ starting quarterback position next season.
The TCU transfer was a four-star prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, ranking seventh overall in his home state of Illinois and 32nd nationally among quarterbacks. He went on to redshirt his first year in Fort Worth before finishing last in TCU’s 2022 quarterback battle, behind initial starter Chandler Morris and eventual Heisman runner-up Max Duggan. In his three cameos for the Horned Frogs last season, Jackson threw 5-5 for 63 yards and ran for 64 yards.
Jackson’s dual-threat profile will add a novel dimension to the blue and gold offense — one that new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is keen to introduce. While pocket passing dominates the recent lineage of blue and gold quarterbacks, Jackson is conversely renowned for his running ability: He was classified as a dual-threat quarterback by recruiting databases, and his stats at TCU, albeit sparse, attest to his ability to make plays with his feet just as well as his arm at the college level.
Cal also reeled in proven experience at defensive back, wide receiver and tight end — positions that needed to be reinforced before next season.
UNLV’s Nohl Williams and Colorado’s Kaylin Moore will be new pieces of the Bears’ secondary next year. Moore took on a prominent role for Colorado last season, finishing fourth in the program’s total tackles and passes defended. Williams recorded 98 total tackles and five interceptions in three productive years at UNLV.
Graduate Illinois wide receiver Brian Hightower joins Cal coming off the most successful season of his college career by racking up 37 receptions for 452 yards and two touchdowns for the Illini. He will compete for targets with Mavin Anderson behind Cal’s No. 1 receiver Jeremiah Hunter.
Asher Alberding, graduate transfer from North Texas, is set to feature as a blocking tight end and on special teams.
Cal also rolled the dice on three once highly touted recruits who will look to reignite their careers in Berkeley. Former four-star running backs Justin Williams-Thomas, a Tennessee transfer, and Byron Cardwell, coming from Oregon, will accompany Jaydn Ott in the blue and gold backfield. Sergio Allen, Clemson linebacker and former four-star recruit, will hope to find a role in Peter Sirmon’s Cal defense.
Finally, Tulsa punter Lachlan Wilson, Oregon State tight end J.T. Byrne and three junior college transfers — defensive back Matthew Littlejohn, wide receiver Marquis Montgomery and offensive lineman Martin Tine, all ranking top-10 in their positions among junior college prospects — round out Cal’s transfer class.
Most of Cal’s recruits are coming to fill in Peter Sirmon’s defense, with six new defensive players set to join Cal for the fall. Among these are two defensive linemen in Tiumalu Afalava, who was named to Southern California’s Elite Cannon List for defensive linemen, and Zurich Ashford. Ashford’s highlights include an interception returned 20 yards, as well as 109 tackles over 22 games; the incoming freshman chose Cal over other programs, including No. 1 and national champion Georgia.
Joining the pair on defense is outside linebacker Ryan McCulloch. McCulloch, a three-sport athlete, was also a standout player in baseball and basketball. Cal reeled in just one inside linebacker out of high school: Cade Uluave, who was ranked No. 21 in national inside linebacker rankings.
Rounding out Sirmon’s defense are defensive back Sai Vadrawale and Frederick Williams, whose position is not listed but who will likely also play on defense.
Filling in for the slew of offensive players that Cal lost to the transfer portal, Cal signed three recruits for its offense. For newly appointed offensive coordinator Spavital, it was key to make big moves to fill the wide receiver and running back rooms, with several key players lost from those positions.
Out of the signees, the most eye-catching is Nyziah Hunter, a stud four-star wide receiver — Cal’s only four-star recruit so far — who recorded 93 receptions for 1,563 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons. This is especially noteworthy given Cal’s loss of Sturdivant, who recorded seven touchdowns in his last season with Cal before transferring to UCLA.
Joining blue and gold stars such as Jaydn Ott is Bay Area local Jaivian Thomas, who rushed for 4,028 yards in his last two years of high school. There is also just one tight end that Cal recruited out of the class of 2023 — Ben Marshall. In 2022, Marshall was listed as one of Tennessee’s top-10 tight end candidates by Tennessee Varsity Rivals.
Aside from offense and defense, one member of special teams will be joining Cal’s 2023 recruits — the nation’s No. 1 long snapper David Bird.
Head coach Justin Wilcox emphasized this position, saying that “nobody really talks about it until something goes wrong.”
These incoming freshmen, although not joining Cal for spring ball, will be welcome additions to Cal’s roster in the fall, especially with such a significant loss to the transfer portal.
Of all the opponents that Cal football has ever faced since its establishment, the transfer portal may be the most formidable. This past season alone, the program lost a whopping 23 players. Granted, not all transfer portal losses are created equal, but a roster deficit as large as that should not be taken lightly.
The most notable transfer portal casualties arguably fall into the quarterback category, as the blue and gold saw the departure of not one, not two, but all three of its signal callers. Starting quarterback Jack Plummer, who threw for 3,095 yards and 21 touchdowns in his time at Cal, has announced his commitment to Louisville. With his departure, Cal fans turned their eyes — and hopes — to backup quarterback Kai Millner, who entered the transfer portal not long after his teammate. Zach Johnson thus remained the last quarterback in a blue and gold uniform — that is, until he wasn’t.
And then there were none.
Wide receiver J.Michael Sturdivant remained in blue and gold colors but nevertheless was victim to the transfer portal, as he announced his commitment to UCLA. Amassing 755 total receiving yards and 65 receptions last year in his freshman season, the wide receiver will be sorely missed in an already lackluster Cal offense. Running backs in Ashton Hayes, DeCarlos Brooks, Damien Moore and Chris Street also took their leave via the transfer portal, the first two of which committed to Nevada and Arizona State, respectively.
Spavital’s offense continues to receive blows from the transfer portal, as the roster saw the loss of tight ends Keleki Latu, Nick Alftin, Jermaine Terry II — a former four-star recruit who started all 12 games as a sophomore — and fullback Champion Johnson. The O-line did not escape unscathed, either: Ben Coleman, perhaps Cal’s most valuable asset in its pocket protection, announced his transfer with two years of eligibility left. Cal’s offensive line remains an Achilles’ heel, as Plummer suffered 31 sacks on the season and the loss of Coleman was certainly the last thing the program and fans could want. Spencer Lovell, who appeared in just three games for Cal before a season-ending injury, is another loss to the Cal O-line.
Linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo, who recorded Cal’s second-most tackles in 2022, committed to UCLA. The transfer portal spared few, as fellow linebackers Orin Patu, Ryan Puskas, Trey Paster, Henry Ikahihifo, Patrick Hisatake and Kyle Smith played their last game in a Cal uniform as well.
Place-kicker Dario Longhetto announced his departure to Arizona State, following a 54-yard long field goal — tying for the second longest in program history — and a total of 149 points in his career at Cal. The program also lost long-snapper Slater Zellers, who committed to Arizona State.