One day after the two-month anniversary of his hiring at Cal, Sonny Dykes experienced the first major rite of passage as the Bears' head football coach.
Make no mistake. Dykes has been busy since he inherited Cal's program on Dec. 5. He's assembled his coaching staff, immersed himself in recruiting and started connecting with the campus community.
But Wednesday afforded Dykes the opportunity to make his biggest mark yet on his stewardship in Berkeley with National Signing Day. And he did just that by inking 25 players that is considered a consensus top-30 class nationally, an impressive achievement for a head coach that took over a program so late in the recruiting calendar.
"You have to get that first recruiting class signed," Dykes said during an interview in his office as Signing Day wound down. "I feel good about what we did and what we accomplished. The thing I'm proud of is we added good people to our program and we added players that will be here and be productive for a long time."
There was an early-morning buzz at the Cal football offices Wednesday as the coaching staff and assembled support staff fulfilled their Signing Day duties. Dykes was in his office by 4:30 a.m., and the first National Letter of Intent came across the fax machine at 5:07 a.m. That belonged to defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter of Houston. At 5:29 a.m., the Bears received a fax from fellow Texan Chad Whitener, a linebacker from Mansield.
"And then somebody showed up with some doughnuts," Dykes said.
Shortly past 7 a.m., the fax machine set up temporarily in the football conference room was consistently humming. By just after 9:30 a.m., the class was complete. In between, hoots and hollers could be heard from the coaching staff meeting in the conference room as different faxes made their way across the machine.
"You never know. You're always worried somebody getting a late-night phone call or an early-morning phone call," Dykes said. "We were trying to hold off some schools on a couple of kids. It's a relief when you get the fax because it's an incredible amount of time and effort invested in these guys. It's good to see it go your way."
Since Dykes and his staff got a late start recruiting the 2013 class, they figured there was no time like the present to look ahead to 2014. After the last fax arrived, the staff started looking at film of high school juniors and got on the phone with coaches and athletes with an eye on the future.
"That's the nature of recruiting. It never stops," Dykes said.
At 1 p.m., Dykes began the media portion of his day. He went downstairs to the Tahir Family Team Theater for his Signing Day press conference, where he fielded questions from the press and narrated a video compilation of all 25 of Cal's new players. Then it was off to do radio interviews with KNBR 680 AM and 95.7 The Game, television interviews with the Pac-12 Networks and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and a live chat with fans on calbears.com.
"It's easy to talk about this class because I'm excited about this group," Dykes said. "I really like these guys. I think they're going to be very successful."
Finally, in the evening, Dykes ventured over to the University Club for a Signing Day reception with donors, followed by a season-ticket holder event in the Field Club.
"It's always fun to see Cal supporters," Dykes said. "It's a great bunch; so many nice people. It's fun because I'm actually getting to start to know some of them. I look forward to getting to know them even better."
Dykes plans on being back in the office early Thursday morning. He and the staff will continue preparations for spring practice and to recruit for 2014. When the Bears take the Memorial Stadium field for their first spring session on Feb. 25, it will be another benchmark in the Sonny Dykes era. You can tell he was pretty happy with the first one.
"It's been a hectic day," Dykes said. "It's good to have this behind us. It's an exciting day, but there is a lot of work involved. It's a relief to get these guys signed. The thing I'm always impressed with is how much interest there is in our program and I'm just excited about the future as we continue to build."