Sept. 21, 2005
BERKELEY, CALIF. - By Kimberley Hoidal
Ryan O'Callaghan almost gave up on football.
As a high school player at Enterprise High School in Redding, Calif., O'Callaghan wasn't too inspired by football and seriously considered quitting. Luckily for the Golden Bears, O'Callaghan's family talked him into sticking it out.
"In high school I was big, so I thought I was supposed to play football," said O'Callaghan, a 6-7, 360-pound senior offensive tackle. "I didn't enjoy it very much. I almost quit, but I didn't quit and kept going. Now I'm glad I stuck with it."
Encouraged to stay with football by his parents Tom and Evelyn, O'Callaghan pressed on with his football career, earned PrepStar All-America honors as a senior, and eventually earned a scholarship to Cal.
"My parents are super supportive," O'Callaghan said. "They come to every game. I think they've only missed four games, and even came to games when I wasn't starting. They are everywhere."
O'Callaghan first came to the California campus in 2001, redshirted, and watched as the team suffered through a dismal 1-10 season.
"When I first got here everyone was upset," O'Callaghan said. "We didn't act like a family. Now people just do what they are told to do. It's a lot smoother, which makes it a lot easier and a lot more fun.
"Once head coach (Jeff) Tedford arrived, he preached unity and team work. He convinced us we could win," O'Callaghan continued. "I think that was the biggest problem. No one thought we could win. Then he (Tedford) came in and that was one of the first things he said. `You got to believe you are going to win, or you're not going to win.' That was the first thing he instilled in everyone's minds and it's worked."
With a quick turnaround of the program by Tedford, O'Callaghan became a major force in the new California football family. In his four years at Cal, the Bears went from 1-10 to 10-2 with back-to-back bowl appearances.
O'Callaghan emerged last season as one of the best offensive tackles in the country. A first-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2004, he was a key performer on the offensive line for the 10-2 Bears that featured the nation's leading rusher, J.J. Arrington. Now, he has found himself as a candidate for the Outland Trophy, which recognizes the nation's top lineman.
Along with senior center Marvin Philip, O'Callaghan has taken on the role of leader for the nationally-ranked Bears. A perfect example of his leadership was during the 2004 season-opener at Air Force, when he suffered a broken wrist in the sixth play of the game, yet continued to play with a cast the rest of the year.
"I've never missed a game because of an injury," said O'Callaghan, who was the recipient of both the Bob Tessier Award as the team's most improved lineman, and the Andy Smith Award for the most playing time. "Last year I was probably the most injured person on the team. I did have a broken wrist from the Air Force game, but my wrist was healed by the Stanford game. Still, every game I played with a cast on."
Since O'Callaghan came to Berkeley in 2001, the Cal football program has developed into a family atmosphere, strengthened by building relationships between the players and the coaches.
"I think Cal has been about meeting people and the relationships you make, as well as the education," said O'Callaghan, who is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. "Football has been fun, but I've also met a lot of interesting and nice people outside of football."
The relationships have led to an excellent start to the 2005 season. O'Callaghan and the offensive line have again fueled one of the best rushing offenses and top-notch passing efficiency teams in the nation, featuring sophomore tailback Marshawn Lynch.
"It all starts with us," said O'Callaghan. "The only thing with Marshawn is you have to make sure you finish the job, because you never know when he's going down. That's something we learned last year. It's a pleasure blocking for him, and I know he appreciates what we do."
It's been a whirlwind of change since O'Callaghan first arrived at Cal in 2001. New faces, new schemes and a new attitude have improved the football family.
"There's definitely more excitement going on now," O'Callaghan said. "The USC game in 2003, when we defeated them here, was probably the best game for me to be a part of. I've never seen our fans so excited. It was the biggest win I've ever been around."
O'Callaghan and the Bears now look to improve on what they've accomplished the last three years. "I'd love to go to the Rose Bowl. If we go to a big bowl, I'd like it to be the Rose Bowl."
The Rose Bowl just so happens to be for the national championship in O'Callaghan's senior year. What better way for the Cal veteran to enjoy his last game with his Golden Bear family.