Aug. 13, 1999
Turlock, CA - For Cal linebacker Matt Beck, preparing for his final college season in 1999 is serious business. Real serious.
"He's always been so intense in his approach to the game, but it's even more so this year," says head coach Tom Holmoe. "It's only August, and he's already got his game face on.
"He's been through a some tough seasons in his career and I think he feels like this year can be really successful and he doesn't want it to slip away. He won't allow it to slip away. It's good to have that type of leadership on a football team."
To say that Beck has a passion for the game of football is only half true. He has a passion for playing the game the way he believes it should be played -- with 100 percent intensity and without errors.
That means preparation, preparation and more preparation. That means that Beck won't allow himself to miss an opportunity to study game films. That means he won't permit himself to blow off a weight lifting session. That means he won't tolerate less than a full effort during practice. And, he doesn't take kindly to anybody on his team that won't work just as hard.
"He's about as dedicated a football player as I've been around," says defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich. "That's what makes him special. He really cares about playing well."
Many rate Cal as one of the top defensive units in all of college football and Street and Smith's magazine ranks Cal's linebacker group as the No. 1 in the country. Beck, himself, has been selected by Football News as a third team pre-season All-American. The Sporting News rates him the No. 9 inside linebacker in the nation. That praise doesn't seem to have any impact on Beck.
"We have a chance to be a great defense, but it's all talk right now," says Beck. "It remains to be seen how good we become. It's performance on the field that counts, not how well you talk."
The senior linebacker has been on only one bowl team during his time at Cal and enduring two straight losing seasons has clearly left a sour taste in his mouth. While some players can shake off a loss in a few hours, Beck carries around that baggage with him like a 100-pound boulder on his shoulders.
"If I have 15 tackles and an interception, but we lose, I couldn't care less," says Beck. "But if we win and I have just one tackle, I'll be happy."
And it's not just winning that satisfies him. It's knowing that the game was played the right way, with maximum effort and without mistakes.
"For me the most fun I have is waking up on a Sunday after a game and coming in to be with my teammates and looking at the films and see that we all played hard and we executed," says Beck.
Beck's serious approach to the game is a major turnaround from his high school days when he played hard both on and off the field. Partying with friends was more important than taking care of class work or working out. When his high school coach set down some firm rules before Beck's senior year, Beck responded.
Maybe it was the fear of not being able to play the game he loved. Maybe it was just the natural maturation of a young man. But, he began to take care of business.
And now, five years later, he is one of the top linebackers in college football and on track to graduate next spring from one of the country's top academic institutions with a degree in Legal Studies.
Scouts believe he may have a future in the professional ranks, but Beck says he really doesn't want to think ahead. His sole focus is on this coming season. During the off-season, his tried hard to put on additional bulk. He got as high as 239 pounds and checked into fall camp at 236 pounds. But, he says that it doesn't feel right and he'll play the season between 225 and 230 pounds.
"I'm not naturally a big guy who can carry a lot of weight," says Beck. "I just didn't feel right at 235 or 240 pounds. The main thing is I'm stronger and that should help."
Beck also made a major change in the off-season, electing to switch from his familiar No. 59 to No. 99. He made the change in honor of teammate Nate Geldermann, who was forced to retire due to a neck problem. Geldermann embodied the relentless style of play that Beck values so highly and he could think of nothing more fitting than playing his senior season in his friend's jersey number.
Now, he'd like to honor his former teammate by finishing his career on a winning note. He'll accept nothing less.
by Kevin Reneau