Aug. 19, 1999
Turlock, CA - The next three months will determine a lot about the future of Cal defensive tackle Jerry DeLoach.
At 6-5 and 310 pounds with the type of athletic ability that allows him to dunk a basketball, DeLoach seems to have professional football imprinted indelibly on his back. However, he is coming off a knee injury from late last season and the pro scouts will be watching him closely to see if he has the type of explosiveness and quickness he showed before the injury.
If he has a big year, he'll likely be a high draft choice and a long NFL career ahead of him. If he doesn't, he may end his playing days and look toward pursuing his long-time goal of medical school.
DeLoach seems to be heading in the right direction. After ballooning to 332 pounds on June 1 thanks to inactivity caused by the injury, DeLoach went home to Sacramento and began daily workouts with Sacramento King strength and conditioning coach Al Biancani. He now is at his playing weight of 310 pounds and claims he "feels much quicker this year than I was before the injury last season."
DeLoach's enormous natural ability causes his line coach Bill Dutton to keep pushing for him to do more. After the first week of training camp, Dutton said he wasn't satisfied with the progress of his prized interior lineman. "Jerry has the potential to play at the next level, but we need him to turn it up a notch," said Dutton. "His knee seems to fine, but I want to see more intensity, more leadership out of him."
Dutton changed his tune after the team's first scrimmage Wednesday afternoon. "Jerry had that spark, he really got off the ball," said Dutton. "If he keeps that type of fire, he's going to have a great season."
Last season, DeLoach established himself as one of the top linemen in the conference. Coaches around the league noted his ability to make plays, voting him a second team All-Pac-10 selection. This year, The Sporting News rates him the No. 5 defensive tackle in college football, while Lindy's magazine ranks him No. 8 nationally.
Those type of rankings would translate into a very high draft choice, but DeLoach realizes that his performance this season will determine his future. "I know that the knee injury last year means I have to prove it's not a problem," he said. "I'm hoping for a big year. I want to make some big plays and limit my mistakes. The key is to always play hard, to play the same in the fourth quarter as the first quarter."
Much of DeLoach's success is tied to the players around him. Noseguard Jacob Waasdorp works side-by-side in the trenches while linebacker Matt Beck is usually directly behind the two. Head coach Tom Holmoe believes that the experience the trio has working together makes a big difference in DeLoach's performance.
"Jerry is big and agile which makes him tough to block, but he also really benefits from having Waasdorp beside him and Matt calling signals behind him," said Holmoe. "They have a language between them that's hard to replicate. That type of communication is something that comes from playing together for a while. It allows them to attack blocking schemes the right way and the result often can be a big play."
The Cal senior tackle had several impact plays last season. On his first play in the UCLA game, DeLoach broke through the Bruin line and sacked quarterback Cade McNown , forcing a fumble that Waasdorp recovered at the 2-yard-line. It helped give the Bears a 7-0 lead.
The next week, DeLoach showed his athletic skills by grabbing a fluttering Oregon State pass out of the air and returning it to mid-field. More importantly, it stopped a potential scoring drive and set up Cal's come-from-behind 20-19 victory.
His roll of big plays was stopped on the first play from scrimmage the next week at Arizona State. While being held up by one player, another Sun Devil lineman went after DeLoach's knee and he was carried off the field, his season done. The knee brace prevented serious ligament damage, but he did have arthoscopic surgery to repair the cartilage injury
While DeLoach describes the play as "dirty," he never panicked about his future in football. "I've always had the foundation in high school and at Cal, that education was the first priority, so the injury didn't scare me as much as some would think," he said. "I'm really happy that I've been able to come back in full health and have a possible pro career in the offing. But, I also know that I have options with graduate school if that doesn't work out."
The future may hold many things for Jerry DeLoach, but right now his focus is on helping the Cal defense dominate action in 1999.
By Kevin Reneau