This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Nov. 3, 2007.
By Chris DeConna, Cal Media Relations
It is 6:00 p.m. in Memorial Stadium, and nightfall quickly settles in on another California football practice. Senior safety Thomas DeCoud has his sights set on an overthrown pass. He leaps up but is unable to corral the spiraling ball. Within seconds, DeCoud is greeted with some harsh criticism: "You gotta catch that ball, Thomas!!"
A natural response from defensive coordinator Bob Gregory or defensive backs coach R. Todd Littlejohn. But the criticism guided at DeCoud came from the stands. It was his vibrant 69-year old grandmother, known as 'Granny Annie' to the many that know her. Her words draw a chuckle from the patrons in the stands and even catch the attention of DeCoud himself. "I'm trying grandma," he says.
DeCoud's mother, Angellique, and father, Ronaldo, are regulars at Cal's practices. On another cold October night just as she always does, Angellique arrives 10 to 20 minutes before the end of practice. Still dressed in her work clothes with a brown leather coat, she collects her thoughts as she reflects on her son's journey at Cal. "Well I know that he has matured a lot and that he really improved his leadership skills," said his mom. "It makes me proud to see that Cal has helped him become the man that he is. He has had a well-rounded experience here, and I was proud to see that he graduated and earned his degree. I credit the coaching staff and coach (Jeff) Tedford for making him into the man that he is. I've really seen him mature throughout these past five years. He loves the game, and he loves what he does."
September 25 may have been just another day to most people. But for DeCoud, and the millions of gamers out there, it was like Christmas. It was the arrival of the highly-anticipated video game, Halo 3. A self-proclaimed video game guru, DeCoud waited in line past midnight to snatch one of the most popular games out there. If you are unsuccessful in finding DeCoud on a scheduled day off or hours before team meetings, film sessions and practice, that's because he is playing one of the hundreds of games from which he has to choose. "I've had every game system since the Nintendo 64," said DeCoud. "My other favorite is Super Smash Brothers on the N64. I play that a lot with my roommates [Cameron Toler and Drew Glover]."
Former teammate Steve Levy recalled in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, waking up at 2:00 a.m. some mornings and finding DeCoud laughing at cartoon DVDs. "He's really a hybrid personality in that way," Levy said. "He knows when to be serious, but he doesn't miss any chances to have fun, either. Not a lot of people can do that."
Three days prior to the arrival of Halo 3, the Golden Bears (ranked No. 6 at the time) entertained the Arizona Wildcats in the teams' first conference game of the season. Early morning rains threatened to damper the atmosphere around the stadium. By game time however, the clouds had dissipated and DeCoud has his sights on making the Wildcat offense evaporate as well. With Cal already up 21-3 in the first quarter, DeCoud made not only the game's biggest defensive statement, but also a name for himself on the national scene. With Arizona pinned deep in its own territory, DeCoud rushed on a safety blitz and sacked quarterback Willie Tuitama so hard that the ball was jarred loose and subsequently scooped up by Tyson Alualu who rolled into the endzone for a touchdown. At the end of the game, DeCoud's stat line read: 10 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, an interception and a sack. It was an All-American type of performance for the Pinole High School product.
"The way the play was designed, we were able to call it on the fly," recalled DeCoud in an interview with the Bear Insider the following day. "We had a rush blitz, and when I came in everything parted like the Red Sea. I saw the quarterback looking downfield, so I gave it everything I had. I was pumped. I didn't realize that he had fumbled the ball, because I was yelling and screaming."
British Naturalist Charles Darwin once said, "A man who dares to waste one hour of his life has not discovered the value of life." This quote rings true for DeCoud who has taken full advantage of his time at Cal, whether it's on the field, in the classroom, or with his family and his friends.
"It certainly felt like the time just flew by," said DeCoud. "The years felt really short. It made me realize that time is real precious. It felt like all of the hard work, all of the blood, sweat and tears made this process long, but the actual time felt fast. It's a perplexing thing - something so hard can go by so fast."
At 6-2, 204 pounds, DeCoud is a menacing force on the field, always looking to lay a punishing hit on a wide receiver who dares to try and catch the ball over the middle. His statistics back that up. He leads the secondary with over 50 tackles to go along with a pair of pass break ups as well. "I've been hit by everybody on the team," tailback Justin Forsett said. "When Thomas hits you, it's not something you want to remember."
DeCoud is also a menacing force on the microphone. Type in "Thomas DeCoud" on the YouTube search engine and you will see the imposing figure from the Bear secondary with three of his friends, dancing, singing and laughing it up on a karaoke stage.
For 54 seconds (duration of the video clip) you get to see a slice of DeCoud's life off the field -- having a good time with friends and taking advantage of those precious moments in life. And that is the way DeCoud has always been with his friends, from his early childhood to now. "You can come to me for anything," said DeCoud. "If you have a problem, I'll listen to you and offer my two cents. I will be there for you and I'm going to help you anyway I can.
"This team is one of the more special groups that I have been a part of since I've been here," remarked DeCoud. "There is a lot of team chemistry and a lot of unique characters. I may never meet a group of guys like this again."
'Granny Annie' makes it out to another October football practice on the Tuesday before the teams leaves for Tempe, Ariz., later in the week. She is dressed in light blue velour warm-ups with a Cal visor. Keeping a watchful eye on her grandson, she says, "I'm his toughest critic, but I'm so proud of him."
"We just support him," said his mother. "He really appreciates us. We're a family that supports anything he does. He's just a compassionate person and he goes the extra mile for anybody."
Everyone knows November 10 is rapidly approaching. Thomas, his mother and father and of course 'Granny Annie' all know that it will be the last time he emerges from the fog of the North Tunnel of Memorial Stadium before Cal's showdown with the USC Trojans. There is no doubt that DeCoud will be thinking about all of those memories in Berkeley and the love and support he has received from his friends and family before he takes the field in his final home game. "My parents have been there every step of the way," said DeCoud. "They have let me follow my own path, but never let me get off track. They are always in my corner."
For DeCoud, a possible dream in the NFL awaits after the season is over. "What football player would want football to end?" claimed DeCoud. "I'm just going to do what I can to make it."
It's only fitting that 'Granny Annie' says with a smile on her face, "I'm just waiting to see what his next adventure may be."