August 23, 1998
TURLOCK - Toward the waning minutes of the Bears final scrimmage of camp Saturday, junior free safety Pete Destefano accomplished something the entire Cal secondary only pulled off four times in 1997 -- he intercepted a pass.
And thought the pick may have been insignificant to some, coming in an obvious passing situation as the Cal offense was working on converting 3rd-and-long situations, to Destefano it was yet another sign that his game was continuing to rise to another level. More than athletic skill, the interception was a product of being in the right place at the right time and thats something Destefano has been working hard at going back to spring practice.
"You can have all the talent in the world and if your not in position youre going to get beat," Destefano said. "Since the spring and through the summer, my sole concentration has been of football. I dont think I missed a workout or film session the entire time and its starting to payoff."
Which just maybe one reason why Cal safety coach Randy Steward called Destefano the most improved player in the Bears secondary over the past year. But improvement tends to plateau at some point and thats why Destefano took the pick as such a good omen.
"I think Ive really improved since last season." said Destefano of his play in camp. "But sometimes you need something like an interception or a big play to keep you on track."
Staying on track will be key for Destefano and a Cal secondary whose confidence took a beating in 1997, surrendering a league-high 24 touchdown passes, many of the big play variety. As a result, the Cal secondary became an easy target for fans and media alike looking for a place to pin the blame of a 3-8 season.
"I tried not to let (the bad press) affect me last season," Destefano recalled. "But to say it didnt affect me would be a lie. Its tough because when things are going well the press seems to love you, but when youre struggling it goes the other way fast."
Those days appear to be behind Destefano now. After a stellar showing in Cals 10-day camp, highlighted by Saturdays scrimmage that saw the 6-2 215-pound hard-hitting safety post four big tackles in addition to the interception, his confidence seems to be back.
"The problems I had last year were mostly mental mistakes," said Destefano. "And thats why Ive been working so hard during the offseason on that aspect of the game. We havent set any goals as far as interceptions or whatever, but we have set a goal to have zero assignment errors. If youre constantly in the right place, good things are going to happen."
And with The Sporting News No. 7-ranked safety Marquis Smith, who also had an exceptional camp according to Steward, back as Destefanos running mate in the middle of the Cal defensive backfield, things should be a lot tougher for any of Cals opponents looking for a quick strike in 1998.