This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Nov. 10, 2007.
By Patrick Merrill, Cal '01
He's an offensive lineman who runs routes. He's a pass blocker who opens lanes. He's essentially all things to everyone on offense. That's Craig Stevens' job. He plays tight end.
A quiet and reserved legal studies major, California's starting tight end prefers to stay under the radar. Although he's considered one of the best tight ends in the country, by his nature and the very position that he plays, it is easy to overlook his contributions to the Bears' success.
Tight end is a complicated position, something of a hybrid between a back, receiver and lineman. A tight end must be able to run-block like a fullback, pass-block like a lineman and catch like a receiver. It's a wide spectrum of duties and responsibilities that often gets overlooked.
"It takes a special guy to play that position," explained coach Pete Alamar, who oversees tight ends and special teams for the Bears. "You're looking for a guy that can run fast enough to stretch the defense, a guy big enough, tough enough and strong enough to block a defensive end, be the point of attack and on some plays be your pass protector."
Much like a running back, a tight end must adjust his game week to week, learning new protection and route schemes that match-up well against that weekend's opponent. It requires a strong work ethic, and a lot of film, in order to be prepared.
"You're not going to get bored," said Alamar. "Craig will always be prepared when he goes out onto the field."
Stevens was a highly-touted recruit to Cal from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in 2003. The San Pedro native played both offense and defense for the Panthers and was voted his team's defensive player of the year following his senior season, a precursor to his collegiate success at the demanding tight end position.
"When he came to Cal, he was a physical player," described Alamar. "Now he's got the technique to go with the physical play. You put those two things together and you've got a guy that's coming off the ball and getting after people."
Those two things make Stevens a serious threat to opposing defenses and earned him preseason recognition as a Mackey Award candidate, given annually to the best tight end in the nation. Despite the recognition, Stevens remains true to himself, quiet and humble.
"I just like being out on the field and winning," he explained. "Everyone on this team understands their role. No one is taking attention away from the team."
That may be, but Stevens is still attracting national attention. The Mackey Award, given to the tight end who best exemplifies the play, sportsmanship, academics and community values of NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey, was awarded to another Pac-10 student-athlete in 2005 - UCLA's Marcedes Lewis, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But for Stevens, it's not about national attention. He just likes to play the game, and that's what makes him so good at it.
"A lot of times you might not notice him," said Alamar. "He's not going to catch the long touchdown pass and he's never going to carry the rock, but you've got a guy who takes pride in his job and his role in the offense. He understand the importance of that role and he's going to go out and do the best he can every play. I think that's what people miss about Craig."
It is also easy to over look Stevens' consistency. The fifth year senior hasn't missed a game since the 2004 season. Playing relatively injury-free throughout his collegiate career is due in no small part to the extra time Stevens spends in the weight room, focusing on extra arms, abs and core work.
"I always try to put in as much time in the weight room as I can, just keeping my body in shape to prevent injuries," said Stevens. "I've been pretty fortunate. The extra work has definitely helped."
Stevens' hard work extends beyond football. With just one class remaining - statistics - Stevens will complete his legal studies degree this semester. After that, well, even he's not sure yet.
"I'm just going to keep training," said Stevens. "I want to try to play football for as long as I can. I'm going to give it my best shot and if it works out, it works out."
Whatever direction Stevens takes next spring, he will be remembered around Memorial Stadium as a tough, physical and quiet tight end, a walk softly and carry a big stick kind of guy who played his heart out every game.
"The thing I will always remember about Craig is that he brought it every play," reflected Alamar. "He's never going to leave you short. At the end of the game, there's nothing left in his tank. He gives you everything he's got.
"Craig's the reason you coach - to watch a guy grow over five years, not just as a player but as a person. He's going to go on and do great things, on and off the field. There's no doubt in my mind."