Sept. 17, 2006
By Patrick J. Merrill '01
[This story originally appeared in the September 9 issue of "Kickoff," the official California game day program]
There are two words just about everyone around Cal football agrees can be used to describe fullback Byron Storer - intensity and commitment.
The 6-foot-1 senior from Modesto's Central Catholic High School is universally known around Memorial Stadium for his amazing commitment to excellence on and off the field, consistently exceeding expectations and setting an example for others around him. Storer is now Cal's starting fullback, a scholarship student-athlete charged with parting swarms of opposing defenders for Golden Bear tailbacks.
Fullbacks are hard-nosed guys, as Storer's nickname, "The Bull," might suggest. They are glorified, better looking offensive linemen, so the team joke goes; blockers who don't expect to touch the football much. Guys who rush forward and open holes. Silent hitters.
But this season's starting fullback position was not always Storer's to enjoy. As he says, "I've been waiting for this for a long time, waiting my turn."
For the previous four years, the starting job belonged to Chris Manderino, who tallied a school-record 50 starts at his position. Storer was undeterred. Originally a walk-on at Cal who turned down scholarship offers from other programs, including a full-ride opportunity at Cal Poly, Storer chose instead to pursue his dream of playing Division I college football, and to do it at a university where the excellence he demands of himself in football is equally demanded of him in the classroom.
"It's hard to turn down a full-ride," said Storer, "but my family and I talked it over and decided I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to go to Cal and play Division I football. Without a doubt, it was the best decision of my life."
Coming from a small high school in California's central valley, Storer didn't have many college coaches recruiting him, despite his standout career at Central Catholic High, where he was named the Modesto Bee's District Player of the Year as a senior.
It was hard on him, missing out on the excitement and attention that often surrounds prep stars on national signing day. But Storer made the best of it, as he always seems to do, and just one semester after walking onto Jeff Tedford's inaugural 2002 squad, he was awarded a scholarship and named the scout team player of the year on offense.
"He is one of the hardest working guys I have ever had," said Ron Gould, the Bears' running backs coach. "Byron leads by example. His commitment to this University and his passion for this team and the game are just amazing."
Storer's leadership-by-example mentality is just another one of his highly respected qualities, and one certainly that has not gone unnoticed by coaches and teammates.
"I think he's the hardest working player on the team," said sophomore fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou, the man poised to fill Storer's shoes in the starting job next season. "Byron never takes a play off and never complains. Even during the toughest workouts, he's still going hard till the end."
Separately, Storer is quick to return the compliment.
"Will is going to be a phenomenal fullback," he said. "I'm excited about helping him to become a better player. We talk about improving our blocking every day. I have the utmost respect for his work ethic and him as a person, both on and off the field."
Clearly, Storer was paying attention to the examples set for him by previous Golden Bear leaders. As he puts it, each team has leaders that players can learn from. Becoming a leader is not something coaches or teammates can tell guys to do. Rather, it is something the student-athletes learn. Leaders naturally surface on each team, just as Storer has.
"It's something you do for yourself," Storer said. "I think the game of football teaches you lessons way beyond the field. Learning to be a leader helps you to become successful in life. There is no substitute for learning how to be a good leader."
And that is just what Storer has become, a team leader who emphasizes that it is important to find success outside of football, too. The mass communications major will graduate this fall, and he stresses to his teammates the importance of doing well in the classroom, as well as on the football field, distinguishing himself by earning Pac-10 All-Academic honors each of the past two years.
To Storer, this California football program is more than just a team, it's a family, and he is very committed to seeing them all succeed.
"I feel like I have 105 best friends on the team," said Storer. "With the coaches, it's like having 10 dads. I have been truly blessed with the people I've been surrounded by at Cal."
Storer extends that feeling beyond Strawberry Canyon and singles out one professor in whom he has a great deal of respect, taking several of her mass communications courses.
"Jean Retzinger is the kind of professor I expected to have when I came to Cal," said Storer. "She's always challenging us to do better, just like our coaches on the field, and I like that."
While Storer is unsure where life will take him after this season and after graduation, one thing he is certain of - his commitment, to both the football program and to the University he loves.
"This school and this football program made me the person I am today," said Storer. "I owe it to this University to give back."