Oct. 8, 2001
BERKELEY - Football and film-not necessarily in that order - are two of Tyler Fredrickson's greatest motivators. Asked to decide which is more important to him, he couldn't definitively say. As for what's more difficult, he says each has its own set of obstacles.
For someone who's involved in what he calls the "two most political things on the face of the earth," Cal's sophomore punter (junior academically) speaks diplomatically about football and Hollywood.
At this point, judging by Fredrickson's roundabout route to Cal and the expectations once he arrived, football seems to claim an early edge in the importance category and is slightly ahead on the difficulty scale.
Several Pac-10 schools heavily recruited the Santa Barbara, Calif., native and Fredrickson planned to play for UCLA, a football powerhouse that also boasts a top-notch film school. Until one day the Bruins just stopped calling.
"They said they had already found a kicker and weren't interested anymore," said Fredrickson, who's currently averaging 42.2 yards per punt for the Bears to rank fourth in the Pac-10.
Following that news, coaches at the University of Washington planned to fly the young punter to Seattle for drills. Before making the trip, however, the Huskies fired much of their coaching staff and effectively nixed the deal.
Fredrickson then turned to Columbia, an Ivy League school that recruited him, in hopes that they still needed a punter. They did but he couldn't afford the tuition with the limited financial aid package the school offered.
He was so sure football would dictate where he studied academically that the high school honor-roll student didn't apply to any colleges. It wasn't until Cal called that Fredrickson faxed his application-the night before the deadline.
"It all fell through at one moment and I felt stranded," Fredrickson recalled. "Cal called and offered me a walk-on position."
Now with football worries aside, Fredrickson began work on his second passion.
"I want to learn more about film," he said, citing an interest in either directing or producing. "I don't want to close myself off to anything because if you pigeon-hole yourself, you're not going to make it in the business."
The aspiring filmmaker, who names "Star Wars" as his all-time favorite movie, worked at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Marin County and has organized publicity screenings for such studios as Dreamworks, New Line Cinema and Buena Vista.
Athletically, soccer was the sport that occupied much of Fredrickson's time growing up in Southern California, and it wasn't until the football coach at his high school encouraged him to try out for the team that he realized how much he enjoyed kicking a pigskin. He tried out, became the team's star punter and now considers it the best decision he ever made.
The move eventually led him to Cal at a time when the Bears already had one of college football's greatest punters in Nick Harris. Fredrickson knows that the comparisons are inevitable, but he's eager to emerge from Harris' shadow and make a name for himself.
"It comes with the job and I accept it because I think Nick is the greatest," he said of the comparison. "But I'm not Nick. I'm Tyler, for better or for worse."
After kicking just four punts last year during a season in which Harris capped his storied Cal career by breaking NCAA records for punt yardage and total punts, Fredrickson stepped up to starter this season. He's already punted 22 times in the Bears' first four games and is averaging 42.2 yards a punt, including a career longs of 57 yards against Washington and 51 yards twice (vs. Illinois and Washington).
"He's learning on the job and willing to do what it takes to get the job done," said Cal's first-year special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel. "He's making a lot of progress, but he still has room to grow and room for improvement."
Fredrickson said that being a walk on kicker placed him at the bottom of the football barrel, but it gave him more motivation to earn a starting job and eventually a scholarship.
"My first year here, my special teams coach didn't know my name," he said. "And now, to come through and be starting for this football team, to take on a leadership role, to come out of nowhere and get a scholarship, that's icing on the cake."
At the end of the day, the question arises: Football or Hollywood?
"That would be the hardest decision of my life," Fredrickson said without hesitation. "I'm having so much fun playing football and I feel like the team is coming along that I couldn't give this up. I'll definitely finish out my career here."
And after his last collegiate punt?
"If there's no football left for me, definitely film will be the way," he said.
By Tim Haran