Laying It On The Line For Cal
November 13, 1998
BERKELEY - In an age of athletes leaving school early, lured by big contracts, big names, and big money, John Welbourn is a breath of fresh air.
A three-year starter on California's offensive line, Welbourn is in the midst of writing the final chapters of his Golden Bear career. And what a book it will be.
Now in his fifth year at Cal, Welbourn graduated last spring with a BA in Rhetoric and now stands a mere 13 units from a Master's of Education. Make no mistake, Welbourn is a football player, all 317 pounds of him, but he is also a student, and that is something he takes very seriously.
"It is kind of funny because some of the freshmen on the team are in the class that I am a TA for," said Welbourn of his teaching assistant duties in Education 75, Introduction in Sport in Higher Education.
"It's a new experience for me. Being on this side of the equation is a little different. I'm used to being the one absorbing. Now I have to plan out lessons and be very calculated with what I say because everybody writes everything down."
Academics are an important part of Welbourn's family life, as is the law. His father Robert is a criminal attorney in Torrance, and his two older brothers, Robert Jr. and Ed, are both aspiring bar members. Give him enough time, and John plans to be there too, JD in hand.
"I'm hoping to go to law school," said Welbourn. "Education was a good masters program here, being the No. 1 school in the country. I liked the focus that it took with athletes and society. It is something that I've really had to deal with over the past five years. But eventually I'd like to go to law school."
For now, however, law school will have to wait. There happens to be something else on Welbourn's mind. Three not-so-little letters: NFL.
"It is something that I've been working for, like another step to take," said Welbourn. "I've been doing this for nine years, and it would be nice to finally make some money and get that recognition of playing on Sunday."
That light at the end of the tunnel must be blinding by now. Before the season even started, draft guru Mel Kiper was rating Welbourn as a Top 10 offensive tackle prospect.
"I like to play football. I like to play the offensive line. I enjoy what I'm doing, and if someone thinks that I am good enough and wants me on their team, then that is fine by me," said Welbourn.
"I have always believed that I am a smart person and can do whatever I want in life. I think a lot of people feel the pressure that they have to go to the NFL because they have no other way to succeed in life. I don't feel that pressure. I work hard and good things happen because of that."
Starting out under O-line coach Tom Cable, now an assistant at Colorado, Welbourn continued to polish his game under Monte Clark, an 18-year coaching veteran, eight of which were spent at the helms of the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions, respectively, who now is in charge of Cal's offensive front wall.
"Tom Cable is a great coach. He taught me what I know about the game and really inspired a drive in the game that has been really good for me. I probably wouldn't be here without him," said Welbourn.
"If anything, Coach Clark has refined my play. He definitely is teaching me the finer points of the game, and the offensive line. That, and it just looks good on my resume that I played for him, right?"
It sure does. But Cable and Clark both got a pretty amazing package to start with in Welbourn. Credit that back to his family.
In a season that has seen Cal's front five take a lot of heat for the team's offensive struggles, Welbourn remains a pillar of strength and determination for his fellow linemen.
"My mom always told me the hotter the temperature, the stronger the metal. I'm a big believer in that," said Welbourn. "My brothers and I talked before the season about me trying to lead by example. All I try to do is never get beat. I try to go out there and be as dominant as I can, and show that if I can do it, they can do it."
And talk about leading by example. Welbourn has spent five years at Cal (he redshirted the 1994 season) and will leave with two degrees, which cannot be emphasized enough. He is the student-athlete professors, administrators, and coaches dream about.
"Maybe I had the opportunity to go out last year, but I felt like I hadn't done what I had come here to do," said Welbourn. "I felt like my job was to help make Cal a winner and get my degree."
"Cal is a great place because it helps shape your mind. There are all these different people, and all these different ideas. They create a sense in yourself."
When Welbourn moves on with his life this spring and leaves Cal, he will take a little piece of the university with him. And it is safe to say that the University will keep a little bit of John, too.
"What Cal means to me? To be twenty years from now, waking up on Saturday, and still getting that nervous feeling when Cal comes on television. That is what Cal means to me."
By Patrick J. Merrill
University of California