Aug. 23, 2000
TURLOCK - Last year, when junior linebacker J.P. Segura attended his first Cal football camp after transferring from Mt. San Antonio College, he found himself surrounded by one of the best linebacking corps in the country. Players such as Matt Beck, Sekou Sanyika and Keith Miller were big, strong and talented and knew the Golden Bear system inside and out.
Now that trio is gone and Segura finds himself having to step into their roles. Although officially listed as a returning starter, Segura knows he has plenty to learn if he plans to help maintain Cal's linebacker tradition.
"It's tough losing guys like Keith, Matt and Sekou because they knew so much and they had the system down so well," Segura said. "This year, we're not as experienced, granted, but I don't feel that there's any excuse for any drop off in performance."
In 1999, Segura didn't play much early in the season. He began the year behind Beck and Juan Jimenez, who started after Beck went out with a foot injury in the year's second game at Nebraska. By the time mid-October rolled around, Segura began to get more and more playing time, and he gained his first start against Washington Oct. 23. By season's end, he had accumulated 25 tackles, including 10 at Oregon State and six at Stanford.
"That experience was valuable to me," Segura said. "Without that, I wouldn't know a lot of things I know now. Last year, I had a really, really tough time at camp. With that game experience, I now know what the speed is like. The guys are a lot bigger than what I faced at JC. It's another level. They're more physically talented. The game is more mental."
For as long as he has been playing, Segura said he has found the mental aspect of the game the toughest to master. For him, the physical ability has always been there. Now, it's a matter of mastering the nuances and eliminating the little mistakes that can get in the way.
"The way I look at it, football like an extra class for me," he said. "There's a lot I need to learn, and I need to put in the time and effort, just like I would in school. We play different teams every week, and every week you have to prepare for whatever the opposition throws at you."
At 6-0, 230 pounds, Segura isn't the most physically imposing player on the field. Yet, he more than makes up for his lack of size with his intellect, ability to read keys and reaction to the ball.
"You don't have to be the biggest or the strongest or the fastest," Segura said. "You've just got to be able to play. You've got to be a smart player. Guys like Zach Thomas and Dat Nguyen, that's what helped them excel, it was their smarts, not so much their physical ability on the football field."
As a group, head coach Tom Holmoe is pleased with the performance of the Cal linebackers. He believes the Bears are a solid three-deep at every spot. Now that camp is past the midway point, it's time for those players who want to start to separate themselves from the group.
For Segura, that means it's time to use what he's learned in the classroom and show it on the field.