This article first appeared in the Nov. 12 issue of Cal Kickoff GameDay Magazine
By Melissa Dudek
A week and a half before today's Senior Day game, offensive lineman Justin Cheadle traveled in his mental time machine and shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of his career.
The first stop on the journey: 2009 and his favorite Cal football memory.
"We were playing Stanford at Stanford," Cheadle said. "They were one of the top teams in the nation [ranked No. 14 at the time of the game]. They started off by beating us 14-0 in the first quarter, but we ended up coming back and beating them. Our fans rushed the field. It was a really good feeling. Our O-line played really well. Our running back, Shane Vereen, had a big game, rushing for close to 200 yards [193, a then-career high]. It was a really big accomplishment to come back from looking like we were out of it to come back and win. "
He traveled back even further into the past, revisiting a much-younger version of himself: Justin Cheadle, the basketball player.
"I took up basketball very young," Cheadle said. "I think my parents had me in little leagues when I was four or five. Then I got into club ball in fifth or sixth grade and then played all throughout high school. I love basketball. It was my passion. If you had told me when I was younger that I was going to play football, I would have had no idea. I never played football when I was younger. I was always on the basketball court."
It wasn't until he was a freshman in high school that he first took up football. By his sophomore year, he came to love football. By the time he was an upperclassman in high school, and the scholarship offers came rolling in, he had shifted gears and imagined himself a football player.
There are other things, besides the football destiny, that he wished he could tell his past self. He had plenty of advice to impart upon the redshirt and then freshman Justin Cheadle during his early days at Cal.
"I wish I learned all the center points back then," Cheadle said. "I wish I had really tried to understand the offense more so I could pick up the defenses and know what to see so I could anticipate more and just play faster. Before, I kind of relied on `There's my man. Ok.' When you start understanding things, you can actually play a lot faster. I wish I really understood the whole entire system more, like I know it now."
Cheadle's time machine also made a stop to remember the people who influenced him through those first years of sharp learning curves.
"Noris Malele was a real mentor," Cheadle said. "He is extremely talented and he always blew my mind how smart he was on the field. He knew everything. Coach Michalczik would ask questions, as a freshman, I had no idea. Noris had the answer every time right away, and, of course, there was Alex Mack. Alex was amazing. If I could somehow have that kind of work ethic, I knew I could be successful. I always respected how hard he worked, whether it was a Thursday helmet practice or a full-padded practice, or if he was hurt or sick, he was always going 100 percent."
Cheadle then lingered in this current season and his love of playing on the 2011 offensive line.
"My favorite thing about my position is pretty much being a part of every play," Cheadle said. "People don't notice that because you have people like Keenan Allen, Marvin Jones, Isi Sofele and Zach Maynard, all great play makers, but nothing really happens without the line doing its' job. Those holes don't open up. Zach doesn't have the time to throw the ball or Isi doesn't have the holes. We are a part of every play, a part of every offensive snap. That is pretty cool."
Cheadle, who actually graduated last May, then set the mental dial to looking ahead to the future. The honorable mention selection for last season's Pac-10 All-Academic team feels confident about the future, whether it be playing professionally or heading off to grad school to study kinesiology. He also hopes that four years from now, another group of young linemen will use their trip in a mental time machine to remember him as a mentor and a friend.
"I have been taking some time to help some of the younger guys, helping them work on their technique, helping them see things and helping them know things that I wish I would have known at their age. Hopefully they say `Cheadle helped me with this. Cheadle helped me with that.' That would make me feel good."
His final wish for the future:
"I have honestly loved the guys I have played with on the O-line. They are a group of guys that I hope I keep in contact with outside of Cal. When I grow up, I want to be able to call them and see what's up."