Saturday’s 116th Big Game at Stanford Stadium will provide a end-of-the-year ritual seen every season across the country.
A group of seniors will play their final college football game together.
But unlike many seniors, Cal wide receiver Jackson Bouza and defensive end Dan Camporeale will be on the field for the last time together after being on the field for the first time together.
Bouza and Camporeale both grew up in nearby Lafayette. Their first attempt at football came when they attended Stanley Middle School together and played on the flag football team.
“I was just D-Tackle/O-Line, probably one of the bigger dudes,” Camporeale said. “I peaked early. I was just watching Bouz run routes all over the place.”
Unlike most college teammates, Bouza and Camporeale have a long history together. They played CYO basketball together for the St. Perpetua Panthers in second grade, even though they didn’t attend the same elementary school. The team was coached by Jackson’s father, Matt, a former Cal wide receiver himself.
“I was the awkward, lanky center,” Camporeale said. “Jackson was the point guard, just dishing all over the place. I figured basketball wasn’t my sport, but Bouz kept playing it. I had no handles. I was just kind of a boards guy. I stuck with football and baseball.”
Since they attended different grammar schools, Bouza and Camporeale didn’t spend that much time together until they were united at Stanley. But after middle school was over, Camporeale attended Acalanes High School while Bouza went to De La Salle.
“We definitely kind of lost touch in high school,” Bouza said. “This is kind of like a Shakespeare play. I always knew his name because he was always in the paper because he was such a stud. I knew he was really good. When we found out we were coming to Cal together, it was really cool.”
Matt and Ken Camporeale, Dan's father, ran into each other in town one day and found out each’s son was going to walk on at Cal. But Dan didn’t know about it until he ran into Bouza at a college writing placement test at Campolindo High School in Moraga.
“I saw him and just asked him how he’s doing and where he was going. He had heard I was going to Cal but I hadn’t heard at that point,” Camporeale said. “We just started talking and ended up talking for an hour about what was going to happen and what we were doing. We were talking when we were supposed to be doing our test. At the last minute, we realized we had to finish this thing.”
“I wrote the best essay of my life,” Bouza said.
From there, a friendship that had roots in second grade basketball bloomed into a bond that should last a lifetime between Bouza and Camporeale. The two have become best friends, having lived together throughout college and leaned on each other as they have navigated similar stories in Berkeley.
Both Bouza and Camporeale came to Cal as walk-ons but eventually earned scholarships. They have been part of winning teams and losing teams. They have weathered coaching changes and facilities displacements.
“I think both of our families have so much respect for both of these guys for hanging in the through all this stuff,” Ken Camporeale said. “What they have both been able to accomplish is unbelievable. As a parent, I couldn’t be prouder – not only for sticking it out but they are two kids who rarely complain about anything.”
Camporeale surprised many when he was named a starting outside linebacker to begin the 2011 season as a sophomore. He has played in every game since. He moved to defensive end this year under new defensive coordinator Andy Buh.
“I always looked up to Dan because he did everything right,” Bouza said. “He’s really smart. His football IQ is really high. That’s something I always really respected about him. I think he got his scholarship a semester before me and I was so excited for him because I knew he deserved it so much. He is someone I have definitely looked up to.”
Bouza started opening some eyes during training camp of his sophomore year and was in line to be a significant member of the playing rotation when he was sidelined with a broken finger. He played mostly on special teams last year but this season has 11 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown, playing in every game and starting two.
“We’ve had some great receivers come through here in front of Jackson,” Camporeale said. “He has learned every single receiver position. When someone went down, he was always the first person they could put in. He was always there, always was ready and never complained about anything. That’s just who he is. He works so hard, and finally got the opportunity he deserved.”
Bouza and Camporeale didn’t know it while playing basketball together in the second grade, but not only would they become best friends later in life, they would forge the strong bond between two players that have to overcome odds and fight for every snap of playing time. It’s a bond that has brought them and their families together, and should persevere well after they walk off the football field for the final time together on Saturday.
“We’ll try to hook up with the Camporeales prior to the game and watch them get off the bus,” Matt Bouza said. “It will be a pretty emotional time. Hopefully they’ll shock the world and walk off the field with The Axe in their hands.”