This article originally appeared in the Sept. 11, 2010 issue of Cal Kickoff Game Day Magazine
By Melissa Dudek
Chris Guarnero is the strong, silent type. The 6-2, 270-pound senior offensive lineman is usually a man of few words, but when he lines up at center for the Bears, there is just one word that matters: competition.
"I love football because of the competition," Guarnero explained. "I also love it because it is competing with some of the closest friends that you have, going for one goal, winning. Just that brotherhood, coming together and competing, and hopefully we win."
Offensive line coach Steve Marshall has nothing but great things to say about his center and his competitive streak.
"Chris epitomizes what college football is all about," Marshall said. "He's a strong academic kid. He's an extremely hard worker. He's an undersized guy whose strong suit is his will to compete. He uses that to his advantage. Every play he is a 110-percent guy. He loves to play football."
Fellow offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz echoed his coach's sentiment.
"Chris is really smart," Schwartz said. "He understands football. He is able to figure out stuff on the run so we don't have to go over everything so specifically because we know he can pick it up on the field when it happens."
Schwartz also admires the competitiveness in his teammate.
"He is a great competitor. You see him, even when you are doing those kind of mundane drills as you do every day, he is always working really hard trying to get himself better, which will make the team better. The big thing is not only being really competitive against the other team, but against yourself."
Guarnero acknowledges that he tries to play hard every snap, but especially so in game situations. For him, the key to the Bears' success is a matter of not letting his teammates down and knowing they are doing the same for him.
"Just knowing that you left it all out on the line and there is nothing left you can give and everyone else on your team did it. The results should take care of themselves," he said.
Guarnero is in his second season as the starting center for the Golden Bears. He had the unenviable task of taking over the position vacated by All-American Alex Mack, a first-round choice of the Cleveland Browns in the 2009 NFL Draft, but don't feel sorry for Guarnero's burden. Guarnero himself hardly noticed.
"I didn't feel pressure because I played next to Alex the year before and I had a pretty good spring. I wasn't nervous about replacing him. I was more nervous because I had foot surgery and was wondering how that was going to hold up throughout the season. If I was nervous about last year, it was more about my foot and my health."
Guarnero ruptured a tendon in his big toe in the first game of the 2008 season. He played two more games after that before getting shut down for the rest of the season. The toe held up just fine last year and the injury is a distant memory in 2010.
A born lineman, Guarnero has shifted from tackle to center, back to tackle, and now back at center. Ever since he started playing football, except for a rare early game or two at tight end and linebacker, he has been a lineman.
"Center is making the points and all the line calls, and they are a little bit closer to you," Guarnero said, explaining the difference between positions on the offensive line. "At guard, you can just get in your stance, read the defense a little bit, and know what you are doing. Basically, the guy on you, you have pretty much most of the time. At center, you are helping out both guards and directing traffic in there. It is a different, but a lot of the stuff is the same."
The center, as all football fans know, is in charge of snapping the ball to the quarterback. This act seems so simple from the stands, but is actually a fine-tuned talent that requires much maintenance.
"It is something you have to keep up with every day," Guarnero said of his position's signature skill. "It's kind of one of those routines you have to get in. It's timing. It is slowing yourself down before you move. If you are going too fast, then you are just throwing it back there. It goes everywhere."
Guarnero grew up in Westminster, Colo., living in the northwest Denver suburb with his mother, Trudy, father, Gary, and older sister, Heather. A mere 15 minutes drive from downtown Denver, in July 2006, the town was ranked as the 24th-best place to live in the United States by Money magazine.
In addition to football, Guarnero also had a Rocky Mountain-nurtured love of snowboarding that he explored growing up. He started off on the green and blue runs of famous resorts like Winter Park and Copper Mountain. As he grew older, he pushed himself onto the more challenging slopes, sometimes with mixed results.
"When you hit that age around 16 or 17, you start to get a little more dangerous. I was hitting more advanced slopes. There were a couple of wipeouts that I remember that made me question whether I wanted to keep doing it. Especially when I knew I was going to play college football."
Skiing wasn't his only cold-weather sport. He also loves hockey, but preferred to play roller hockey as a junior high schooler, the off-ice version of the sport. Guarnero mainly played defense.
"When I was growing up I was a lot bigger than everybody else," Guarnero recalled with a smile when asked about whether he was his team's "enforcer".
His favorite memories of home, however, mostly deal with watching the hometown teams. A big fan of the Avalanche and the Broncos, Guarnero loved to take in games with his dad, either at home or at Mile High Stadium.
"My dad loves sports, too. Every Saturday, I would wake up and watch college football with him. Then if the Broncos were playing, we'd go to the game or watch the Broncos game at home."
He has especially fond memories of watching linebacker Al Wilson and running back Terrell Davis suit up in the blue and orange.
These days, he watches NFL games with a different filter.
Guarnero, who is just a thesis away from graduating with a degree in American Studies, likes talking about the past and loves talking about the present, but is reticent to talk about the future. His love of sports is fueling the thought that he might pursue a career in the industry.
"I took a sports marketing class and it seems like it is pretty hard and a long process to get into that field. We'll see what happens after the season. I just like everything with sports, being around sports. Obviously 70,000 people show up here for a reason."
It was in that sports marketing class that he was offered a behind-the-scenes look at life in the industry. Guest speakers from teams like the Oakland A's and San Francisco 49ers not only made presentations to the class, but also spent some one-on-one time with Guarnero and other interested students afterward telling them what a career in sports is really like, an option that Guarnero is considering, but he knows he has many options.
"Hopefully I will have a good year and then train, maybe go to the (NFL Scouting) combine. We'll see."
Teammate Schwartz has his own ideas about what Guarnero might do in the future.
"He is always coming up with the new greatest business idea that will make him fortunes when he is done with football," Schwartz said. "He has all of these little ideas stashed away."
Another slice of the future he doesn't like to think about is next season, when there will be a Cal team on the field without him.
"I haven't thought about that too much, but it has crossed my mind a few times, especially when Cal comes out to Colorado next season. I don't know. It will be weird because I will know most of the guys on the team. It will be a different experience, for sure. I will definitely miss it."