August 13, 1998
TURLOCK, Calif. - It may surprise some people that at 6-foot-5, 317 pounds with weight lifting marks such as a 455-pound bench press and a 380-pound clean press, Cal offensive tackle John Welbourn's best asset is his intellectual approach to the game of football.
Welbourn has always been an impressive physical specimen since he arrived at in the fall of 1994 from Palos Verdes High School as one of the nation's most sought after recruits. However, it is only as he enters into his fifth year in the Golden Bear program that he feels ready to assume the role as a complete player.
"I feel like I'm ready to put things together this year," said Welbourn, who has been picked as a third team preseason All-American by Bob Griese magazine this fall. "I felt good physically when I started as a sophomore in 1996, but the truth is I now have a far greater understanding of what it takes to be a dominant player. I've always been able to move the poundage in the weight room, but because of the work I've done with (Cal strength coach) Todd Rice and (assistant strength coach) Kevin Steets, the strength I have now is more meaningful. I'm so much more explosive."
Rice, in fact, singles Welbourn out as one of the top success stories Rice has had during his career. "It didn't come easy because John is a smart guy and he wanted to understand why he needed to change even though he was already a starter at the Pac-10 level," said Rice, who is in his season year at Cal. "But once he bought into our program, he worked his butt off, and he's now just a different player. When we got here, he couldn't really squad press, but now he's one of the best on the team. His legs were undeveloped, but the change in his legs in the last year has been absolutely dramatic."
The massive Cal senior is the lone proven commodity on the Bear offensive line, which may feature as many as four new starters in 1998. However, the consummate veteran isn't ready to panic. "I have to show the other guys how it is done," Welbourn said. "I want to show them how hard I practice and how I never take any plays off. I'm not going to yell at the other guys, I'm going to lead by example. I think I can help these guys get better and I believe we have the elements that can surprise some people. It's like Coach Clark (Cal offensive line coach Monte Clark) says when he told me, 'It's better going into the season with people thinking you aren't very good, and you can surprise them.' That's what I think we can do this season."
Regardless of what happens along the Cal offensive line, Welbourn appears to have a bright future. Draft guru Mel Kiper rates Welbourn the 10th best offensive tackle prospect for the 1999 NFL Draft, and that was during the spring before all the work Welbourn has done in the weight room has become apparent.
Welbourn could be the latest in a long line of offensive linemen from Cal who have become top NFL Draft choices in recent years -- Todd Steussie in 1994 and Tarik Glenn in 1997 were first round picks.
However, Welbourn isn't about to sit and rest on his progress. "I'm so far away from being the player I want to become, it isn't even close," he said. "I want to help this team win, and if we do, that's going to help me. That's my goal this season, then I'll think about my future in the NFL."
That's the type of measured analysis someone would expect from the University of California student, even if he is a 6-5, 317 pounds.