Nov. 12, 1999
BERKELEY - After a long season full of line-up changes and injuries, the Cal seniors will play their final home game this weekend against Oregon. No one is taking it more seriously than linebacker Sekou Sanyika and the Golden Bear defense. Though the defense has performed well this season, the group is taking it upon themselves to finish the season even stronger.
"We call ourselves the 'hit squad,' we've got it on our shorts," says Sanyika. "People hype us up like we're this and we're that, now we have to go show it."
One could argue that the defense has been showing it all season. They are ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 in rushing defense and scoring defense and are second only to Oregon State in total defense. According to critics, it's the offense that needs to step it up - the Bears are last in the Pac-10 in every offensive category. But safety Pete Destefano says the team has managed through it all to remain a cohesive unit and to encourage each other instead of letting adversity divide them.
"A lot of teams would have collapsed, they would have started complaining," says Destefano. "We take a lot of pride, not only as a defense but as a team in not getting caught up in that. I think if you're going to be good you have to somehow keep away from that human nature. We want to continue to take a lot of pride in being a good defense and we're not going to crumble in the last few games of the season."
Part of the reason Sanyika won't play the blame game is that he knows how it feels to be on the other side. "I can understand because I've been there when our defense clearly struggled," he said. "They were pointing the finger at us and saying 'why aren't you guys holding your share up?' We were freshmen and sophomores running around, basically the same people that are playing today."
The defense has decided as a unit to worry only about what they can control. But there isn't much that they believe is out of their realm of possibility. "We really feel we can put points on the board," says Destefano. "Our defense feels we can win ball games. That's what we can control, that's what we can do. We're the leading scoring defense so we go in there thinking we're going to win the ball game, not the offense."
However, the defense refuses to give up on their teammates. They still trust that the offense can pull them through the last two games of the regular season and they know that a bowl game is not yet out of reach.
"I still have confidence in our offense and this week with Joel Young back, that is going to help our offense," says Sanyika. "Our goal is to shut out Oregon and if we're going to win, we can't give up a lot of points. If they're averaging 30-something points a game, that's just not going to do. So the pressure is on us and we're going to have to perform if we want to stretch our season out another game."
Head coach Tom Holmoe says the team feels that they owe it to the seniors to get them to a bowl game, and they want to make this last home game a great one. The defense feels they owe it to themselves as well.
"This is my last hurrah as a college player," said Destefano. "Our defense has played well, I think we go out hard every game and that's all we can do. I don't have any regrets so that makes it worth the while. I've been looking forward to my senior year and my last game and I'm ready to go out there with a big bang and end this thing."