By Jonathan Okanes
Cal offensive lineman Alejandro Crosthwaite was playing the wrong kind of football.
A native of Rosarito Beach, Mexico, Crosthwaite spent much of his childhood playing soccer with his friends. But when he tried to continue to play when his family moved to San Diego when he was in middle school, it was put to a stop.
“The football coach at my middle school saw me playing soccer and said I was too big for soccer,” Crosthwaite said. “He wanted me to try football. I didn’t know anything about football. He had to teach me everything. He basically told me to block the guy in front of me and go get the quarterback on defense. I ended up falling in love with the sport.”
Even when he did play soccer as a kid, Crosthwaite was kind of like the 7-foot center who would rather camp out behind the 3-point line in basketball. Crosthwaite wanted to be on the attack, he wanted to score goals. But his teammates always insisted he play goalie because of his size.
“I always wanted to be like the little guys, the guys on the attack and scoring goals,” Crosthwaite said. “But I had to be goalie. I was just too big. I was always bummed out about that.”
Crosthwaite finally found the right sport and position for him. He ended up playing varsity football as a freshman at Cathedral Catholic High School and was a full-time starter by his sophomore year. Crosthwaite, who had been trying his luck at basketball as well, decided to devote all of his attention to the gridiron.
Even though the move from Rosarito Beach to San Diego was only about a 45-minute trip north, it still meant setting up roots in a different country and all the adjustments that come along with that. Crosthwaite was already between 260-270 pounds as a freshman at Cathedral Catholic, but he was subject to bullying and teasing from other kids who didn’t care for his accent or his unfamiliarity with the territory.
“It was really, really tough leaving all my friends, “Crosthwaite said. “I was the kid from Mexico and had to adapt to the new environment. At first, I got a lot of bullying because of the accent. It was really frustrating. Eventually, the guys that bullied me became my best friends and we’re still really close.”
Crosthwaite’s father, Alejandro, continued to commute to Rosarito Beach after the family moved to San Diego. Crosthwaite still gets back to his hometown often to visit relatives he has there. He has happy reflections of his childhood before moving to the States.
“Life was good,” Crosthwaite said. “There are a lot of humble people in Mexico. I had a lot of good friendships. Rosarito Beach is a small town, so it’s kind of like a big family. Everybody knew each other and everybody was nice to each other.”
Crosthwaite still likes to pull out his soccer cleats when he can. There is a recreation center near his home in San Diego where he can play indoor soccer when he goes back to visit. And he’s played a few times with some of the other international football players at Cal, such as fellow offensive lineman Matt Williams, who is from England, and Italian kickers Vincenzo D’Amato and Giorgio Tavecchio.
“We went up to Witter (Rugby Field),” he said. “Vinny was really good. I thought I was going to embarrass myself. I’m not very good anymore. I’m not as skinny and as coordinated on my feet. I played goalie and the ball seemed way faster and way harder than when I was a kid.”
Although most of Crosthwaite’s family and friends aren’t typically educated about American football, they are still extremely proud that he is a Cal student and try to attend games when the Bears play at UCLA or USC.
“They are really proud that I am at Berkeley,” Crosthwaite said. “They know the sport is big because when they go to the stadium, it’s packed with 60,000 people. They kind of just watch me play. They don’t really know what’s going on, but they support me and are proud of what I’ve done.”
Now a junior, Crosthwaite has started the last six games at right guard for the Bears. He said he would like to use his experience to teach the Bears’ younger players about playing college football and help usher in a new successful era of Cal football.
“It’s been great,” Crosthwaite said. “Thanks to God it’s been a blessing to play for the team and represent Cal. It’s been magical. Words can’t explain how good it’s been to play in the stadium and in front of all the crowds and the fans.”