Aug. 14, 2002
BERKELEY - No one is immune to setbacks and obstacles in their life, and Cal outside linebacker Paul Ugenti is no exception to that rule. With setbacks such as broken bones and position changes - in addition to living with diabetes - Ugenti has proven that obstacles can make a person stronger if they allow them to.
After four years of hard work and frustrations, things are finally starting to pay off for the senior out of Leland High School in San Jose.
"I've put in the time, and now here is my opportunity," explains Ugenti.
A consummate team player, Ugenti has been a mainstay on Cal special teams the past few years, consistently being the first man down on all the coverage teams. Ugenti, who is no stranger to contact and pain - having to take injections several times a day for his diabetes - has earned a reputation for being a hard-nosed player who is willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the team. He has developed into one of the more vocal and spiritual leaders of the team, as well, because of his relentless play.
"Paul has the gained the respect of the players around him," says senior safety Nnamdi Asomugha. "He is a good example for the young guys on the squad."
Ugenti came to Cal in the fall of 1998 as a safety after a prep career that included 4,475 rushing yards and 91 tackles. These stellar numbers earned him recognition from Prepstar and SuperPrep magazines.
Despite the credentials, Ugenti was forced to sit and watch at Cal, as NFL-caliber safeties, such as Marquis Smith and Pete Destefano, played ahead of him. "The frustration built, because I wanted to contribute so bad," explains Ugenti.
The urge to contribute led him to switch positions, and Ugenti moved from safety to linebacker. This change, however, would not be the end of his frustration, but the beginning of a new one.
At linebacker, Ugenti found himself again backing up future NFL players. In this case, the likes of Sekou Sanyika, Matt Beck and Scott Fujita stood in the way. Ugenti then decided to stop harboring frustrations and began taking them out on his opponents. Game after game, he began to make a name for himself, as he found ways to make big plays on special teams. Whether it be forcing a fumble, making a shoestring tackle or providing a key block for a big run back, he was there.
"I just try to do what is asked of me, to the best of my ability," Ugenti says
Well, Ugenti will be asked to play a much larger role on defense this year. Currently, he is receiving reps with the first team, and he is embracing the situation with open arms: "I finally have an opportunity and I will not shy away from it."
At 6-0, 220 pounds, Ugenti is not blessed with great size or speed like his predecessors, but he has been able to be successful due to his knowledge of the game. "I take pride in watching film and preparing for a game," explains Ugenti, "I also learned a lot of the 'little things' from watching Sanyika, Beck and Fujita."
A member of the Pac-10 All-Academic squad, Ugenti has proven that he is an exceptionally bright individual. This has helped him to adapt quickly to a new and complex defense implemented by the Tedford staff.
"Spring gave me a good opportunity to learn the defense," says Ugenti. "The coaching staff did a great job installing it and placing us in the best positions to succeed."
Ugenti, like many others in and around the program, is very happy with the new coaching staff. "The new coaches have taken a lot of pressure off of the players by placing the pressure on themselves," he says. "Now, we can play to make plays instead of playing to not make a mistake."
Ugenti, like the program, has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years, but he is very optimistic about the 2002 season. "I feel that all the pieces of the puzzle are there," he says. "We just have to continue to buy into our coaches philosophy."
The Bears are looking sharper than ever on the practice field, and if their combined effort can match that of Ugenti, then Cal should be able to enjoy its first winning season since 1996.