This article first appeared in the Cal Kickoff Gameday Magazine, Oct. 22, 2011
By Tim Miguel
Ernest Owusu, now a senior defensive end on the Golden Bear football team, made his initial visit to Berkeley back when the tree sitters were camped out in the trees surrounding Memorial Stadium. Owusu smiled when he recalled witnessing the protest and said that you would never see anything like that in his native Nashville, Tenn.
Fortunately for head coach Jeff Tedford and the rest of the Bears, the tree sitters did not push Owusu away from Cal. In fact, the atmosphere and environment in Berkeley is in part what made him decide to play football at Cal.
"Coming from Tennessee, Cal is obviously completely new and something I really wanted to see," Owusu said. "The great education and great football program... I just wanted something new, something fresh. If I don't stay in Berkeley, it's going to be a lot more boring wherever I go, not seeing something crazy every day. I'm going to miss the crazy, fun aspect a little bit."
It didn't take long for the culture shock to wear off on Owusu. In fact, on his third trip home, when he was still a freshman, the culture in Nashville seemed more unusual to him. The charm and personality of Berkeley had left an imprint on him.
"From the environment, the whole Bay Area and the new family that I've made here, I don't know if I'd want to go back," Owusu said. "Tennessee is great. If I do end up staying in the Bay Area permanently, I will miss it (Tennessee) a lot, but I feel like there is just so much opportunity here. I love the Bears with all my heart, so it would be awesome to keep watching them when I'm done. When we're leaving practice, walking down and looking out at all of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, it's so beautiful - I don't want to leave that."
Owusu still gives the nod to Nashville when it comes to food, but the quicker pace in Berkeley is more his speed than the slower pace in Nashville. Owusu said he has also enjoyed going to school in an environment as historic as Cal in terms of the free speech movement and all the protests during the 1960s and `70s that have helped shape Cal into the school it is today.
Just as much as he has made Berkeley his home, Owusu makes the football field his home every Saturday, so much to the point that it has become a pregame ritual for him. Before every game, Owusu walks up and down the length of the field. Even if it means walking down the opponents' half of the field, it does not stop him.
"I like to own the field," Owusu said. "I like to walk it from length to length like I own it, it's my territory now and I have to defend it."
Being able to own the field is something that Owusu had to earn during his time at Cal. There was definitely a learning curve that he had to endure. During one of his first summer workouts before his freshman season, Owusu was taking part in an 11-on-11 drill against former Cal offensive lineman Mike Gibson in which Gibson tossed Owusu to the side as if he were a rag doll. It was a "Welcome to Cal" moment for Owusu, who realized college football was not going to be as easy as it was in high school.
Owusu continued to grow and learn his role on the defensive line, and has now become a leader for the unit. The responsibility of being a leader is not something Owusu takes lightly, but at the same time, he does not let the pressure bother him one bit.
"As long as you lead by example, things fall into place," Owusu said. "I won't shout and scream, and then not do what I'm saying. As long as people see me as somebody they can look up to and I'm doing all those things, then things will fall into place. I just want to keep playing better, adding on to the statistics. I want it to be more about the team, though. All I can do is my job, and the rest will fall into place."
There's no question Owusu wants to stay in the Bay Area when his football days are over. If the NFL does not come calling for him, he has other interests that he would like to pursue like working in real estate and possibly going to graduate school.
What the future holds in store for Owusu is still to be determined, but one thing he is sure about, whatever he does, he wants to do it in his new home - Berkeley.