August 19, 1998
TURLOCK - Just before the Bears departed Berkeley for their 10-day camp in Turlock, the California coaching staff and defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich had a little surprise for Nate Geldermann-he was being moved from linebacker to nose guard.
A 6-1, 245-pound sophomore, Geldermann had never played line before. Not in the two years since he arrived at Cal. Not in high school. Not even in Pop Warner.
But when Rashawn Davis and James Gibson, two players Cal was counting on to help clog thing up in the middle of the Bears defensive line this season both decided to leave the team in the weeks leading up to camp, the Cal defensive line suddenly became thin in personnel up the middle. Deep at the "mike" linebacker spot with Geldermann, Keith Miller, Justin Flagg and Albert Dorsey all battling for playing time, coaches believed Geldermann, with his upperbody strength and tenaciously competitive attitude, would be best able to adapt his game to succeed in the trenches.
"I knew that they were going to need help (on the line) and because we are so deep at linebacker, I was more than happy to move to the nose," Geldermann said. "Even thought I've never played line in my life, I think it'll be a good move for me and the team."
And with the early results from camp beginning to come in, it appears that it has been a good move, both for Geldermann and the Bears. According to veteran defensive line coach Bill Dutton, who calls Geldermann his surprise player of camp, the De La Salle product has exceeded everyone's expectations since Cal opened camp in Turlock last Thursday.
"Nate has just been excellent since joining the defensive line," said Dutton, who began his second stint as Cal's D-Line coach in the spring. "He is good against the run and he will hit you. He still needs to do some work on his technique and improve in pass rushing situations but he's coming along and should be a contributor for us this season."
Geldermann started the first seven games of his freshman season at Cal in 1996 at linebacker and was a very active part of the Bears defense. Despite only playing in seven games, he finished the year as the team's seventh-leading tackler with 46 stops (25 solos) before the wear and tear of a left knee injury that he originally suffered in the spring of '95 while playing basketball cut short his season.
Geldermann then tried to rehabilitate the knee without surgery. He was even penciled in as the projected starter when the Bears opened camp last fall. But it soon became clear that another surgery would be required to stabilize the knee, forcing him to redshirt the '97 season.
The Cal medical staff then kept him out of contact drills this spring as a precaution and didn't even clear him to begin running at full speed until just two weeks before camp. As a result, Geldermann is still trying to work out the kinks in the knee and has only been able to participate in every other practice.
And though the constant battle with his left knee has been frustrating, he has no regrets regarding his career or his recent move to nose guard.
"I think my health has been the only factor that has kept me from being an outstanding Division I linebacker," said Geldermann. "If I was healthy, I would have been just fine. But when my knee started acting up prior to the Houston game, I wasn't able to perform up to my usual levels. This year they need someone to play line and I'm ready to fill that role as long as I'm needed."
Geldermann has done his best to embrace the new position but admits there are quite a few challenges that go along with a position change of this magnitude. But in his mind it's all football. At least he's out on the field and for the most part out of the training room.
"I like playing the position (nose), even though it's a lot tougher on the upper body," Geldermann said. "I'm also outweighed by almost a hundred pounds by some of those guys. But I like to hit and playing nose I get to hit the o-line on every play. By the end of camp, I should have a lot of the techniques down and I should be much more effective putting pressure on the quarterback."
And if he can continue to make strides towards that end, Geldermann should be a nice addition to a defensive line that appears to be emerging of the strength of Cal's 1998 squad.