Aug. 14, 1999
TURLOCK - Two seasons into his college career at Cal, quarterback Sam Clemons realized he needed a new start. After a year spent as a redshirt and another as a backup for the Bears, Clemons decided to change his approach to football.
No longer would he concentrate so heavily on the physical nature of the game. Instead, he would try for a balance that included the mental aspect. The routine began shortly after the 1998 season ended last November and began to show immediate dividends in the spring
"I think I became a lot smarter in the way I managed my time, working on things I needed to improve to raise my level of play to be a starting quarterback in the Pac-10," Clemons said. "They were minor changes, but they were changes that needed to be made to make that next step.
"I broke down each practice in spring football," the 6-2, 215-pound sophomore added. "I worked on harnessing my skills to the best of my ability. I made myself set a goal each day. I was setting goals for every drill. I took a more mental approach to the game and found out that was the key to having success."
Spring practice for Clemons was particularly important because he was battling for the No. 1 quarterback position. He couldn't rely much on his in-game experience, which consisted of just 12 passes in four games as a redshirt-freshman in '98. Instead, he became more dedicated at watching films (up to six hours in a day) and studying the play book to get a better understanding of the entire offensive system.
"In spring, things started clicking," Clemons said. "The game slowed down to where I saw everything. I understood mistakes that I made, and I would correct them. I could correct them in a split second."
With new coordinator Steve Hagen installing a new offense, Clemons picked up the system quickly and showed excellent command by the end of drills. Always known as a strong-armed quarterback with a fearless style of play, Clemons began to master some of the more intricate details of running a game.
"It took some time to get the whole process of college football," he said. "I wouldn't have been ready if I would have played my freshman year. I've been in a fortunate situation where I've been able to take a couple of years to be able to understand everything."
Clemons further benefited from playing against area junior college and Division II teams over the summer. On his own, he organized weekly 7-on-7 competitions with the likes of Diablo Valley College and UC Davis. Not only did it help bring the Cal team closer together and give the Bears practice time together during the offseason, but it also allowed Clemons to build on his spring success.
"For me, it was an opportunity for me to make adjustments on my own without any coaches during those 7-on-7 scrimmages," he said. "It really helped me a lot."
Now four days into fall camp in Turlock, Clemons is trying to solidify his hold on the top spot. All it took was a different adjustment to put him in that position.