The Cal football team will be bidding for its fifth bowl berth of the current decade this coming fall. However, if the Bears achieve that goal, it will be under their fourth different head coach in that seven-year span.
It makes one wonder what could be achieved at the school with some stability in the coaching ranks. Those possibilities may now be realized under the leadership of new head coach Tom Holmoe, who agreed to a five-year contract this past January and pledged to be a stabilizing factor in Berkeley well into the next century.
His impact has been immediately felt during his brief tenure at the helm, as he not only retained five top assistant coaches from Steve Mariucci's previous staff and he held together one of the school's best recruiting efforts in the last two decades, but he has demonstrated the leadership and organizational skills which will provide a foundation for long-term success.
Now he has the immediate task of turning those qualities into another Cal bowl team as he welcomes back 41 returning lettermen, including nine starters on defense and six starters on offense.
Cal finished 13th in the nation last year in total offense, averaging 457.6 yards a game and despite losing a pair of NFL first round draft choices in Tony Gonzalez and Tarik Glenn, along with starting QB Pat Barnes, the Bears again expect to be one of the nation's most potent offenses.
However, it may well be the Cal defense that is the trump card in the Bears bid to improve on last year's 6-6 record that included a 42-38 loss to Navy in the Jeep Eagle Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day. The formula for growth on defense includes three factors, (1) a large group of returnees, including nine starters, who should benefit greatly from last year's experience, (2) an influx of incoming talent, including as many as four JC transfers who will challenge for starting spots, and (3) a fresh defensive philosophy brought in by new defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich, considered by many to be one of the bright defensive coaches in college football.
The schedule is more formidable than a year ago with four bowl teams on the slate and only five home contests on tap. However, most of Cal's key games are scheduled in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium where the Bears have posted winning records in eight of the last nine seasons. Similar results in 1997 could push a young Cal team into yet another bowl berth.
Cal will hope to duplicate its effort from a year ago when the Bears ranked among the top offensive machines in college football and produced three different players who were high NFL draft picks.
Just enough elements remain from that nucleus, as six starters and 14 of the top 22 players return, to make many believe the Bears will continue to rate as one of the most prolific offenses in the nation.
However, there will also be some skeptics who say Cal has some large holes to fill with the departure of the Pac-10's leading passer in Pat Barnes, first team All-America tight end Tony Gonzalez and first round draft pick Tarik Glenn at offensive tackle.
"We'll have a challenge replacing players such as Pat, Tony and Tarik, but that's also going to create an opportunity for some new players," said Holmoe. "I'm not saying we're going to pick up where we left off last year without missing a beat, but I also am not anticipating a major drop-off on offense. We still feel like we will be very productive on the offensive side of the ball."
New offensive coordinator Doug Cosbie will have plenty of weapons to call upon as the Bears boast the Pac-10 receiving leader in Bobby Shaw, a tailback in Tarik Smith who could easily bid for All-America honors in '97, and three starters back on the offensive line, including Jeremy Newberry, considered by many to have more innate ability than any offensive lineman at Cal in the last two decades.
While the passing game figures to be Cal's bread and butter again in 1997, Holmoe and his staff would like to return to the type of balance the offense enjoyed early last year when the Bears were averaging more than 200 yards a game on the ground through the first five games. If the Bears can successfully emphasize the running game, that should also take pressure off the quarterback position which will be manned by Justin Vedder, a player with an accurate arm and a ton of moxie, but no major college experience.
QUARTERBACKS: JC All-American Justin Vedder (6-0, 190) enters the fall as the clear-cut starter at quarterback, after a very impressive spring session. Although new to the program. Vedder absorbed Cal's complex offensive system without a hitch and produced remarkable statistics in the four major scrimmages during the spring. In those game-like situations, Vedder completed 63-of-94 passes (67.0 completion percentage) for 1,115 yards and 5 touchdowns with only one interception.
A southpaw who arrives at Cal with a reputation as a winner (he won his last 17 games as a starter at Saddleback JC), he'll provide a different dimension to the Cal offense with his ability to scramble out of the pocket. He is one of the best all-around athletes the Bears have had at the quarterback position since Joe Kapp led Cal to its last Rose Bowl appearance in 1959. Like Kapp, he also is a brash player who won't take losing without leaving his heart and soul on the playing field and will expect the same from his teammates.
Cal hasn't had a JC quarterback assume a starting position since the mid 1970s, but the Bears believe Vedder can have the same type of immediate impact as Joe Roth (leading Cal to an 8-3 record in 1975) and Charley Young (helping Cal to a 7-4 mark in '77) during their first years.
Sophomore Wesley Dalton (6-1, 190) utilized a solid spring to emerge as the primary back-up at the quarterback position. His command of the offense gives him an edge over junior Ryan Tollner (6-1, 195) and redshirt-freshman Brad Steele (6-2, 195), but he'll find another challenge arriving in the fall with the arrival of incoming frosh Samuel Clemons (6-2, 205). Clemons may have more physical ability than any passer on the Cal roster and needs only experience and to learn the offense before he may insert himself into the picture in his rookie season.
RUNNING BACKS: Cal figures to rely on its running game a great deal in 1997 and with the program's arsenal of weapons in the backfield, that's no surprise.
The Bears have no less than three tailbacks who can make strong statements for a starting assignment.
Tarik Smith (6-0, 190) ranked fifth in the nation and seemed well on his way toward All-America honors starting the first three games, before a knee injury in late September cost him the season. His rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and he apparently will be in full health for fall camp.
Clearly Smith is one of the main keys to Cal's offensive attack in '97, as he possesses the type of ability that doesn't come along very often. His 4.3 speed in the 40, natural athletic ability (school record 41-inch vertical leap) and superior strength (340-pound bench press) will make him a highly coveted pro prospect, if he returns as expected to full health.
Deltha O'Neal (5-11, 195) had a remarkable debut season as a freshman in '97. He showed big-play ability, running for 126 yards on just 14 carries at Oregon and busting a 100-yard kickoff return vs. Navy in the Aloha Bowl. He was in the starting line-up the final two games in '96.
His future is particularly bright as he has the size and speed to have a major impact both in the backfield and as a return specialist during the next three seasons.
Brandon Willis (5-9, 190) put together some impressive performances while starting seven games, including 150 yards to key Cal's upset of USC, 129 yards vs. Oregon State and 107 yards vs. Nevada. He can be extremely effective as a spot player (Holmoe compares him to a sixth man in basketball who can come in with a hot hand) and that's the role he may assume this fall.
One of the stars during the spring was redshirt-freshman Marcus Oliver (5-11, 195) who caught the coaching staff's eye with some sparkling runs. He may not have much of an opportunity in '97 given Cal's wealth of talent at tailback, but has shown he could step in and be productive, if called upon.
The fullback position returns starter Marc Vera (6-2, 225), who fits particularly well in Cal's offensive system as he not only is an effective runner, but catches the ball out of the backfield. A year ago, he rated as Cal's fifth leading receiver with 22 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns. He ran the ball only on occasion last fall, but did average over four yards on his 21 carries.
He'll likely share time with JC recruits Mike Freeman (6-2, 235) and Joshua White (5-11, 235). Freeman is noted as an exceptional blocker who can also catch the football, as he played tight end most of his career before moving to fullback at Orange Coast JC. White is a multi-dimensional talent who could provide a big boost to Cal's running game. Another player who figures in the playing rotation is soph Josh Del Prado (6-1, 240) who moved from noseguard during the spring and could be a powerful force as both a runner and blocker as he gains experience.
Depth at fullback will come from returning lettermen Evan Hershey (6-0, 235) and Rudy Mattox (6-1, 230), along with four highly touted freshmen who arrive at Cal following prolific prep careers.
WIDE RECEIVERS: The wide receiver position figures as the strength of the Cal team in 1997 as the Bears have an enviable combination of talent and depth. Cal's top three receivers combined for 151 catches last season, ranking as the top trio in the Pac-10 and similar results can be expected this fall.
The headliner is Bobby Shaw (6-1, 190) who led the Pac-10 in receiving last year and enters this fall as a strong All-America candidate. Not only did he catch a lot of balls (his 58 in the regular season was the second most in Cal single-season history), but he also is a big play receiver. He ended last season with 11 touchdown catches and has 16 TD receptions on his rÚsumÚ, despite the fact that he's only started 16 games in his career.
One of the more cerebral players in the country, Shaw has more pure speed than most people realize (4.51 in the 40) and great hands, but it is his precise route running and ability to set up opponent defensive backs that make him one of the country's elite receivers.
He'll be joined in the starting line-up by either junior Dameane Douglas (6-1, 190), who put up impressive numbers as a third Cal receiver last season, or senior Kofi Nartey (6-2, 200), who was rated by the coaching staff as the most improved player on the Cal team during the spring.
Like Shaw, Douglas is no stranger to the endzone as he caught five TD passes last year among his 35 catches. Although relatively unknown nationally, the Cal coaches believe he'll make a name for himself this fall. Nartey has as much physical talent as any player in Cal's receiver corps and will be given every opportunity to have a big impact in 1997.
A newcomer with very impressive numbers is JC All-America receiver Bruce Pierre (6-1, 195) as he's coming off a banner 1996 season at Laney JC where he recorded 82 catches for 1198 yards. He may not catch the same number at Cal this fall, but he will be given an opportunity to play an increasing role in the Cal passing game as he gains experience in 1997.
Speedster Phillip Pipersburg (5-10, 175) could develop into an outstanding deep threat in the next few seasons, but the redshirt-freshman could also get some playing time this fall if he develops quickly. He's run a 10.72 time in the 100 meters while in high school and that type of pure speed can inject a boost into any passing game. Sophomore Joel Young (6-2, 175) has excellent hands and could also move into the playing rotation with continued improvement while soph Brian Stumpf (6-3, 185) has excellent size and presents a big target.
TIGHT ENDS: For the first time in several seasons, Cal will enter a season without a proven product at the tight end position and a wide-open battle looms for the starting position.
The loss of first team All-American Tony Gonzalez left a huge void and the coaching staff made a significant position change to help compensate for his absence. Redshirt-freshman Reid Diehl (6-4, 250) made the change from offensive guard to tight end during the spring and figures to be in the line-up when Cal wants a physical presence at that slot.
A trio of returnees will bid for playing time, as well. Redshirt-freshmen Brian Surgener (6-4, 220) and Ryan Horning (6-4, 210) both have many skills and will develop into starting candidates as they improve physically during their college careers. Eric Brandon (6-5, 240) has been on Cal's traveling squad the last two seasons as a third tight end and will contend for more extensive playing time this fall.
The wildcard in the tight end battle is JC transfer A.J. Kunkle (6-2, 230), a wonderful all-around athlete who made a mark last fall as a tailback in the one-back set at Santa Rosa JC. He seems to have all of the tools to be a big part of the Cal passing attack and will get a long look as a potential starter when he arrives for fall camp in August.
When looking at the future of the tight end position at Cal, incoming freshman Corey Smith (6-4, 245) figures prominently. A player with great physical maturity for his age, Smith could make a push for immediate playing time this fall.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Cal has excellent depth with seven different players who started games last season among 10 different returning lettermen on the offensive line. While the Bears have to replace a pair of bookends at the offensive tackle positions, there appears to be plenty of quality to choose from.
The anchor of the line unquestionably will be junior Jeremy Newberry (6-5, 305), who is one of the most dominant linemen in college football. Newberry has 19 starts to his credit as a freshman and sophomore the last two seasons and earned Pac-10 honorable mention honors last year.
Line coach Tom Cable, who has tutored seven different players who have gone on from Cal to NFL careers, including No. 1 draft choices Todd Steussie and Tarik Glenn, says that clearly Newberry can be the best of the whole lot.
Newberry returns at center, but has the versatility to move over to a guard position if either Caleb Brown (6-4, 300) or John Romero (6-3, 300) prove ready to carve out a spot in the starting line-up. Both Brown and Romero have tremendous potential and, if either takes another step forward establishing himself as one of the top five players on the line, it could really solidify the interior of Cal's line. Brown started three games last year while Romero continues to be one of the strongest players on the Cal team and is coming off a very solid spring.
Their emergence could create a dilemma for the Cal coaches as both starting guards are scheduled to return in 1997. However, that type of depth could make a huge difference in the overall production of Cal's offensive line this fall.
Junior John Welbourn (6-5, 300) is another player who figures to have a professional future. An excellent all-around athlete, Welbourn is at his best in pulling situations, but he also has the upper body strength to be a major influence in Cal's drive-blocking schemes. He started the first eight games last year before a knee injury shelved him in early November and it's not entirely coincidental that Cal's running game fell off badly in his absence. The coaches are also toying with the idea of moving him to a tackle position in an effort to get Cal's top five linemen in the line-up at the same time.
Veteran Drake Parker (6-4, 290) has started 18 games over the past two seasons and the senior will again be a starting candidate at guard in 1997. His veteran influence should be a stabilizing factor along the line.
Depth on the interior will be provided by junior Yauger Williams (6-6, 280), who saw a solid amount of playing time as a reserve last season and has developed to the point where he could move into the starting line-up if called upon.
The left tackle position will likely be manned by senior Kursten Sheridan (6-6, 290) who started three games last season at a guard spot. A veteran player who has fought his way through a battle with cancer and assorted injuries during his first four years in the program, he now appears ready to take on a leadership position on the line. He is solid in all areas and the coaches believe he'll blossom in his final collegiate year.
A major question looms at the other tackle position, with several different players in contention for starting status.
One scenario may see John Welbourn moving over from a guard spot. However, junior Kevin Swillis (6-5, 300) may change that thinking if he emerges as quickly as the coaching staff hopes. Swillis, who moved over from defensive tackle midway through last season, has all to tools to emerge as one of best linemen in recent Cal history.
Senior Brian Shields (6-7, 275) has a tremendous amount of natural ability, and hopes to put everything together in his final season to make a push at starting duties. He did start three games last year, two at tackle and one at guard.
Two others who figure to contend for playing time are massive sophomore Kevin Doherty (6-5, 300) and powerful walk-on Christophe Marie (6-2, 280), who came to Cal after playing at Marin JC last year. Incoming JC transfer Jeff Martin (6-4, 285) may need a year of experience to contend for serious playing time.
It may not be as exciting as offense, but it is true that defenses can win championships. Arizona State proved that a year ago with a major turn-around on the defensive side of the ball which proved the impetus for a Pacific-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth.
The Sun Devils had ranked ninth in the league in total defense in 1995, but went all the way to the top of the ladder by finishing first in the Pac-10 in total defense in '96. Cal is hoping for a similar performance and went to Tempe to nab one of the architects of that dramatic defensive turnaround by ASU when Tom Holmoe named Lyle Setencich as defensive coordinator.
Setencich is regarded as one of the top defensive minds in college football and he has many of the same ingredients as he did at Arizona State. He has a young defense which gained a lot of experience, albeit the hard way last season when Cal ranked last in the Pac-10 in total defense, giving up 460.3 yards a game. He also will be able to blend in a group of highly touted newcomers who could make a huge difference in the Golden Bear defense in 1997.
"You would expect that the players returning would be improved just from the fact that they have a full year of experience," said Setencich. "That should make us better than a year ago. Our main priority this season will be to reduce or eliminate errors. We may simplify things some on defense, because we want to make sure that we have everybody lined up in the right places. After that, the main factor is mental toughness, teaching the guys to play hard every play.
"I think our defensive line and cornerbacks look like they'll be strengths. The main goal is to improve."
In all, Cal returns nine starters and 18 of the top 22 players from last year's defensive depth chart, plus a trio of redshirts and three JC transfers who all figure to bid for starting jobs in '97.
That type of experience and new talent figures to add up to a major improvement for the Cal defense in 1997.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Cal defensive line figures to be one of the team's strengths this fall. Quickness will be the hallmark of Cal's line in 1997 as seven different players figure to contend for starting spots and all seven have exceptional quickness off the ball.
The cornerstone is senior Brandon Whiting (6-3, 280) who is back for his fourth season as a starting defensive tackle.
He has been rated as one of the top 10 interior linemen in college football each of the last two seasons and figures as a strong All-America candidate this fall. A player with few weaknesses, Whiting has been double-teamed a lot during his career. However, improved experience and talent around him may free him more this season to make more big plays in opponent backfields.
"Brandon is clearly the centerpiece of our defense," said Tom Holmoe. "He's been one of the top linemen in the country over the last three years and that's playing through injury problems. We think he'll be practically unstoppable, if he's healthy like we expect. He's our leader, through his play and his example both on the field and in the classroom. We expect big things from Brandon this fall."
Two other linemen return with starting experience from a year ago. Sophomores Jerry DeLoach (6-4, 275) and Jeremiah Parker (6-5, 265) each saw a significant amount of action last year and have the type of talent that could allow them to contend for all-conference honors in 1997 with continued improvement.
DeLoach is a major force with his bulk and leg strength (635-pound squat press), but also has the quickness to play the defensive end position. He finished with 45 tackles last season, including six stops behind the line of scrimmage, with five starting assignments. After a very impressive spring, he has the inside track for a starting spot at one of the end slots.
Parker started four different games at either an end or tackle position and finished the year with 16 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage. He's up 15 pounds from last season and will be in the hunt for a starting assignment at either an end or a tackle position.
The nose tackle position could feature one of Cal's group of incoming JC transfers. James Gibson (6-4,. 255) showed a lot of promise during the spring, as his quickness and tenacious style of play may earn him a starting assignment. Redshirt-freshmen Rashawn Davis (6-4, 305) has the type of size that will pay dividends in clogging running lanes and he should see some action at noseguard, with the idea that if he continues to improve, he could contend for starting duties in the near future.
The most visible of the line positions is the rush-end spot that demands superior quickness and pursuit abilities. Line coach Mike Waufle has to be thrilled with what he has to work with at that spot. A trio of newcomers to the line will contend for playing time and all could elevate the Bears defensive line play in dramatic fashion. John McLaughlin (6-4, 235) figures as one of Cal's quickest players in several years. A transfer from Notre Dame who came to Cal last fall and redshirted, he has tremendous pass-rushing skills and an enthusiasm that will be contagious.
He won't be handed the starting spot without a fight, however, as sophomore Mawuko Tugbenyoh (6-1, 225) is making a big push for playing time, after moving from linebacker to a defensive end position during the spring and having a major impact. As a freshman last year, he quickly established himself as one of the most solid tacklers on the team. A player with speed and aggressiveness, he showed that he's capable of being an impact player when he recorded three tackles for loss in the regular-season finale against Stanford. That type of explosiveness could be fully exploited as a fulltime pass-rusher on the defensive line.
The arrival of incoming freshman Andre Carter (6-4, 245) could also make a difference this fall. A first team USA Today prep All-American, Carter is one of the most heralded recruits in school history and he has the type of physical ability that will make him an immediate starting candidate. He recorded 49 sacks over his last two seasons at Elk Grove HS, and that type of pass-rushing skill could make a huge impact on Cal's defense.
Depth on Cal's defensive line will come from soph Dana Benson (6-2, 230), an undersized but productive end, and senior George Roberts (6-3, 260), who moved over from the offensive line a year ago and sat out the '96 season while resting a back problem.
LINEBACKERS: Cal returns all three starters from last season, but this group could have a much different look to it as a pair of JC standouts look capable of wrestling starting jobs away from the incumbents. The increased competition for starting spots and playing time should translate into much improved play from Cal's linebacking corps. The Cal linebackers should also benefit from the experience of new coordinator and linebacker coach Lyle Setencich, who is generally regarded as one of the top defensive assistants in the country.
Sophomore Matt Beck (6-4, 225) returns as one of the premier linebackers on the West Coast after finishing fourth in the Pac-10 and leading the team with 97 tackles as a freshman in 1996. Beck proved to be one of the most active linebackers in the country as he not only made tackles from sideline to sideline, but he picked off three interceptions (returning one for a touchdown) and recovered a pair of fumbles.
A year of experience and physical maturity means he may start to emerge as one of the top linebackers in college football this fall.
Also back as starters in '97 are senior AndrÚ Rhodes (6-2, 225) and sophomore Nate Geldermann (6-1, 230). Rhodes has the versatility of playing either inside or outside and has started games in each of the past three seasons. Last year, he finished as Cal's third leading tackler while starting all 12 games at the outside linebacker spot. Among his 60 tackles last year, Rhodes recorded 12 behind the line of scrimmage.
Geldermann had a solid debut season, especially considering he was battling a sore knee that had not completely recovered from surgery the previous spring. Still, he ended the season with 46 tackles and showed the type of leadership skills that will make him a valuable member of the Cal defense, whether in a starting capacity or coming off the bench.
Another veteran who is very much in the mix for a starting position is junior Justin Flagg (6-1, 235). A former walk-on who has earned a scholarship, Flagg is an experienced player who knows the game well and rarely makes assignment errors.
Cal has three veterans who also should be considered starting candidates at outside linebacker.
Soph Sekou Sanyika (6-3, 230) is a force on the outside as he has the range and size to create a lot of problems. He jumped on to the college scene in a big way when he was credited with an amazing five tackles behind the line of scrimmage (including 3 sacks) in his college debut against San Diego State last September. However his progress slowed and he'll need to recapture that tone if he expects to play a large role on the Cal defense this fall.
Senior Chris Easley (6-5, 225) is a hard worker who started five games last fall at a defensive end position. The coaches like his intensity and great instincts, which usually means he's somewhere close to the football. Those instincts prompted a move to an outside linebacker position this past spring where his size now becomes an asset, rather than a liability.
Junior Josh Trowbridge (6-5, 220) has seen spot duty at outside linebacker the last two seasons and hopes to increase his playing time in 1997.
The influx of junior college talent could have the most significant impact at the inside linebacker positions. Keith Miller (6-2, 235) has the type of athletic ability that could make him an immediate starter. He not only can run as well as anybody among Cal's front seven, but he has an aggressive style of play that has already made an impression on the coaching staff during their first look at him during the spring.
Although he won't arrive until August, many believe that first team JC All-American Albert Dorsey (6-2, 235) will immediately move into a starter's role. He is a dominant player who loves contact and can make tackles all over the field.
Cal has superior depth at the linebacker positions as senior Rasheed Hibler (6-3, 235) has a lot of experience and is solid against the run.
SECONDARY: One of the most significant coaching decisions during the off-season was the addition of a second assistant coach assigned to Cal's defensive backfield. With DeWayne Walker concentrating primarily on cornerback play, Tom Holmoe assigned new coach Randy Stewart to tutor Cal's safeties. The increased individual attention should pay dividends
Cal returns three of four starters from last year's secondary and that experience should make a major difference.
The cornerback spots figure to be handled by senior Kato Serwanga (6-0, 195) and junior Derrick Gardner (6-0, 185). Serwanga tied for third in the Pac-10 last season with four interceptions during his first year in the conference. He has superior athletic ability and now has the type of experience to emerge as a honors candidate his senior season. He not only led the team in interceptions, but also forced three fumbles last year and recovered another.
Gardner split time last season between cornerback and free safety, while finishing the year as Cal's fourth leading tackler with 56 regular-season tackles (60 overall, including the bowl game). One of the most consistent players on the team, Gardner should benefit from being able to concentrate fulltime on cornerback techniques and duties.
Three other players could come on to contend for significant playing time at corner. Redshirt-freshman Chidi Iwuoma (5-9, 175) has great speed and covers receivers like a glove. The coaches toyed with the idea of playing him in his first collegiate season last fall and felt he would have immediately moved into the playing rotation, but eventually decided to save his year of eligibility. He may not have overwhelming size, but receivers can't seem to shake his coverage ability.
Sophomore Mark Orr (5-11, 175) had an excellent spring and he figures to see a lot of action, whether it be as a starter or in nickel coverage situations.
JC transfer Drae Harris (5-10, 180) is another player in the same mold, as he's not very big but can run with the best of them and covers extremely well. He arrives in August from Mesa CC and will bid for immediate playing time at cornerback.
The Bears got a big boost in late June with the addition of talented JC cornerback Harold Pearson (5-11, 170), who comes to Cal as a sophomore after one season at American River JC. He has tremendous coverage skills and immediately will add superior depth to the Cal secondary.
Depth at the cornerback positions will come from junior Brent Vartan (5-11, 180) and freshman Demetrius Stampley (5-11, 180), who enrolled this past spring after signing with the Bears in February of 1996.
Cal returns junior Marquis Smith (6-3, 210) at strong safety and he has shown flashes of brilliance as a starter much of the past two seasons. Whether he can make the next step forward and become one of the top safeties in the Pac-10 in 1997 will tell an awful lot whether Cal makes a turnaround on the defensive side of the ball. Smith has the size and speed to dominate at his position, but now hopes to develop the consistency that the elite level possesses. He finished last season as Cal's second leading tackler with 89 tackles (including 85 in the regular season).
One of the more significant position changes during the spring was the move of sophomore Don Lonon (6-0, 190) from cornerback to free safety where he may end up as a starter. He has good instincts and made solid strides in learning the position during the spring.
Junior David Burnside Jr. (6-2, 200) started six games last year and will be given an opportunity to lock down a starting spot again in '97. A heady player who doesn't make many mistakes, the coaches are hoping the confidence and experience Burnside gained last season will make him a difference this fall.
A sophomore who hopes to make a move into starting contention at one of the safety spots is Pete Destefano (6-2, 205). He's has superior athletic ability and could develop into an impact player as he develops consistency. He started three games last season and now hopes to turn that experience into more effective play.
Cal's special teams will have a different look in 1997 as familiar faces such as punter/kicker Ryan Longwell and return specialist Na'il Benjamin have departed via graduation. However, almost all other elements are back in place and if Cal can successfully find replacements for Longwell and Benjamin, the Bears may be an improved special teams team this fall.
PUNTING: Ryan Longwell enjoyed the second best punting season in Cal history with an impressive 45.2 yard average in 1996. However, strange as it may seem in view of those numbers, Cal may be an improved punting team in 1997. There is a large dose of confidence in the big leg of redshirt-freshman Nick Harris (6-3, 210). His booming punts during practice sessions last fall whetted the appetites of Cal fans and now he'll have the opportunity to quickly make a name for himself around the Pacific-10 this fall. He not only kicks for distance, but his superior hang time should allow for excellent coverage as well.
PLACEKICKING : A two-way battle for placekicking duties will take place this fall as sophomore Ignacio Brache (6-0, 200) will contend with junior Tim Wolleck (6-0, 215). They'll have big shoes to fill as Longwell hit 24 of 34 field goal attempts the last two seasons, including 10 from outside of 40 yards.
Brache has been waiting in the wings the past two seasons and has shown consistent improvement, both in distance and accuracy. However, he'll need to take another step forward if he hopes to hold off Wolleck, who arrived during the spring from Moorpark JC where he hit 19-of-25 field goal attempts the last two seasons.
RETURN SPECIALISTS : Sophomore Deltha O'Neal showed signs he can be a very special player as he had a number of big plays during his debut season in 1997. None was more electrifying than his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Navy on the opening kickoff of the Aloha Bowl. However, he also posted kickoff returns of 39 at Washington State, 37 vs. UCLA and 32 yards at USC and had a 17-yard punt return vs. Oregon State.
His vision and speed could make him one of the best in school history over the next three seasons.
Others who figure to aid in return duties include senior Kato Serwanga, who led Cal with a 23.7 yard kickoff return average last season (including a 44-yard return at Washington State), junior Dameane Douglas, junior Brandon Willis and redshirt-freshmen Chidi Iwuoma and Phillip Pipersburg.