An Interview with a Hydro Technician

One of the most fascinating ways to learn about a football program is to view it from within.  Viewing a program from within its secretive doors allows you to see, hear, and experience moments, interactions, and information that your typical fan could never imagine or fathom.  I've been lucky enough to have those experiences.  I've witnessed and learned many things about the Cal Football program which I have gladly shared with the readers, and also have witnessed and learned some things which I have never told anyone about -- and never will. 

To bring our readers into the closed doors of the Cal Football organization, we've decided to bring you an interview with another Hydro Technician.  As you may know by now, a "Hydro Tech" (for short) is basically a fancy name for a waterboy.  Laugh and mock the job all you want.  The job title certainly isn't flattering and the job isn't glamorous, but the job is very enjoyable and you learn a lot.  I wouldn't trade those moments for the world.  I'm willing to bet if everyone knew what the Hydro Technicians get to see and experience on a daily basis, that every hardcore Cal Football fan would want to be a Hydro Technician. 

With that being said, the man of this interview is Ken Clampett.  As a student at Cal, Ken was a writer for Scout.com and also a Cal Football Hydro Technician.  He graciously agreed to do an interview with CGB, so yours truly -- with the help of the Marshawnthusiasts, Members of the Follettariats, and the Jahvidticians -- put together some questions for Ken to answer.  Let's get to it!

I found out about the Hydro Technician job from my girlfriend at the time (caljobs.com).  I'm forever grateful to her for doing that for me even though I now hate the witch (kidding!).  How did you hear about the Hydro Technician job?

I was taking some summer school classes on campus, and was looking for a job to help make some money. I had a friend who was also working as a Hydro Tech, and he knew of my background and interest in sports. He set me up with a phone call, and 2 days later I was out at 6am doing practice!

Can you explain to us what the usual duties of a HydroTech entail?

I think the only requirements to be a HydroTech are: 1) be a student, 2) lift 40 pounds over your head, and 3) have a flexible schedule so you can be on time.

At work, the main duties include setting up the field (with both the hydration equipment and the medical equipment), being at practice giving water/Gatorade to the players, and breaking down practice and cleaning everything up. Additional duties include making sure water is accessible at all points of the facility (including Bowles Hall during fall camp), making sure the Bear Tanks are filled, and making sure there's ice for the baths.

I believe at most schools, they require everything to be done a certain way. But at Cal, us HT's had the freedom to do what we wanted, as long as everything was ready for practice on time.

 

What seasons did you work for the team?

2008 and 2009

What positions did you work with mostly?

My first day working on the job, I just went wherever anybody told me to. As it normally goes, the Sports Med Interns and everybody who has been there longer get first pick for positions. Predictably, they go for the glamorous positions-- QB, WR, RB, etc. Well, sure enough, nobody wanted to work with the Defensive Line, who was doing their own drills in the corner. So, I stuck there! As it turns out, I stuck with that group for the next two years.

Tell us what that first day at work was like.  I remember my first day being pretty exiting and hectic.  I'm curious as to what you thought of your first day.

Well, it was early... a 6am call time for a 7am summer workout. As with any first-day job, you're always a bit nervous to see what the atmosphere would be like and to make sure you do not screw up. Well, besides being a little starstruck, I was pretty much given free reign to do whatever I wanted, as long as I got the job done. That morning, I learned how to properly mix Gatorade, set up the field, learn where everything important is, where to stand, and how to treat the players. From that point forward, it was a piece of cake.

My most memorable first day moment? I was just standing there, watching the guys go through individual drills. Ironically, Jeremy Ross came from a drill that involved hurdles, and-- instead of just asking for water-- came up with a creative freestyle about how he was parched and needed that H20. I guess you can say I felt like I fit right in at that moment.

You've said that you got to know some of the players on a more personal level.  Who were those players?  What did you do with them outside of football?

The best perk about being a HydroTech is that you get to know a ton of guys on a more personal level. Since I worked with the Defensive Line, I became good friends with pretty much everybody at that position, and even developed a good rep with Coach Lupoi, who would have me set up and even get physical with certain drills for the line. With the players, if I saw them on campus, they would always stop and chat. Mike Costanzo invited me to see him DJ and I wound up having a beer with a few guys.

This is in addition to the tutoring that I did and my work as a reporter. If I needed a story, every player who knew that I worked there was more than happy to take time out of their day to talk to me.

As I understand it, you were also a tutor and you even tutored some of the players.  What subject did you tutor?  What was it like tutoring some of the football players?  Was it weird being that you also saw them at work?

As time went on, word got out that I was a Statistics major. As a result, some of the players who were taking some basic-level math or stats courses came up to me and personally asked me to tutor them.

Now, many people assume that the student athletes really are there only for football. While that may be true to some extent for some of the players, I'll let you know that these guys who asked me for help definitely really cared about their academics. Due to time issues, I was only able to meet them on Friday mornings at 7am before games. Sure enough, they would be there at 6:45, ready to go.

For most people (let alone student athletes), stats and math is an especially hard subject to study for, and it's certainly even a harder subject to get excited about. But these guys certainly put in the time, worked hard, and passed their class. I'm thrilled to say that all the players I tutored have either earned their degree, or are on pace. Certainly for me, tutoring these guys and hearing that they succeeded was the most gratifying experience.

When I was a HydroTech, I didn't work any home games.  Did you?

No home games. They never asked, and I just assumed there were regulations on how many people could be down on the field. Besides, I much rather preferred making noise in the student section.  [Editor Note: Hydro Technicians cannot be paid to work home games because it would require them to work too many hours and it would put the students over the weekly cap for hours worked in order to stay qualified as a full time student.  However, Hydro Technicians may volunteer to work home games for free if they so desire.]

Did you have the chance to accompany the team to away games?  One of my Hydro Technician co-workers got selected to go to Tennessee in 2006.  I'll always envy him for that.

Not as a HydroTech. Since I've been at Cal, I've gone to some truly awesome road games (Oregon '07, Stanfurd '09) and some truly horrific road games (UCLA '07, Nevada '10), but those were either on my own budget as a fan or as a reporter.

What are some of your fondest memories of being a HydroTech?  Why?

There were so many awesome memories and experiences working for the team. Besides Ross' rap about water, probably my favorite moment was assisting coach Lupoi with the drills.

There was one moment, where the DLine was practicing a strike move on the OL skeleton. Usually, the players would hit this several-hundred pound skeleton dummy so hard, that it would topple over. So, I volunteered to hold the skeleton in place to save time. Sure enough, when Alualu hit it, I felt it. But when Kevin Bemoll struck it, I actually fell backward and over, causing the line to erupt in laughter, including Coach Lupoi. I got helped up, a pat on the back from Coach, and continued through the drills. One player jokingly offered me some pain medication. It was embarrassing, but certainly hilarious.

After I worked for the team, I felt like that it was harder for me to get upset at the players for making mistakes during games because I knew them on a more personal level than the average fan.  Did you feel the same way too?  It always amazes me when I am in the stands and hear some of the pure hatred expressed by some Cal fans at the players.  I think a lot of Cal fans forget that the players are human beings too.  Regardless of whether you know the players on a personal level or not, I think they all deserve the same level of respect and treatment as any other human being.  Unfortunately, I think this point is lost on many Cal fans who become too engrossed and emotionally invested in the games.  Would you agree?

Oh, without a doubt. When you work as a HT, you fully know what these guys are doing in preparation for the game. I distinctly remember in 2008, that guys would get to the Stadium at 1pm, watch film and have meetings, be at practice at 4pm, get treatment, get dinner, have more meetings, watch more film, and some players wouldn't leave-- sometimes until 10 that night. This is on top of the guys going to class everyday (and having to study), and losing their entire Friday nights and most of their Saturdays just for football.

Every single player on this team works their tails off. I knew one player, who tore finger ligaments on a Tuesday in fall camp, had emergency surgery Wednesday morning, got a cast, and was back at practice-- in full pads-- that afternoon.

Even guys on the scout team are working hard to earn the respect of the older members of the team.

Did you have any interactions with Tedford?  If so, what were they like?

Haha well... of course! I don't think Tedford ever knew my name while I was an HT-- after all, I was just doing my job. Without a doubt, my favorite Coach Tedford moment came during Fall Camp of 09. Coach Tedford came up to Andy Smith's bench to get some of the fine Gatorade that I made. While drinking, he stopped, read the inscription-- "We do not want men who will lie down bravely to die, but men who will fight valiantly to live... winning is not everything. And it is far better to play the game squarely and lose than to win at the sacrifice of an ideal"-- out loud, and then remarked to me that, in his 8 years of working there, he never knew that the quote was on the bench. He then thanked me for the Gatorade.

In terms of interactions, that's as far as a good interaction would go. If you were doing well, you didn't hear from Coach. If you were not doing well, you would definitely know!

Did you get to know any of the coaches on a personal level?  If so, who?  What were the extent of your interactions?

Working with the DLine also meant working with Coach Lupoi. I started working during the summer of 2008, which meant I saw Coach go from his first Fall Camp as DLine coach to where he is, now. It was clear, from the beginning, that Coach definitely knew what he was doing, and that his players always bought into everything he said. He would go through drills with the players to be a role model, and his intensity made even me want to suit up and play. Surely enough, since then, his name has gone national, and deservedly so. When Cam gets drafted this weekend, I'm sure you'll hear Coach Lupoi's name at some point.

Being around the coaches so much, I'm sure you must have learned some of the finer points of football.  What were you able to learn about football that the average fan might not be able to learn?

I can definitely tell you, my level of football knowledge certainly increased, especially with the concept that football is WAY more complicated than the average fan makes it out to be. Usually, the average fan understands football to be like Madden, where two sides pick a play and then go. Fact is, you can make an argument that the success of a play is 50% determined before the teams even line up, with down and distance, with the opposing team's huddle personnel, and with scouting.

As one player on defense told me, one reason why USC has had much success on offense for the past decade is because they have athletes who can play multiple positions on the field, which makes them that much tougher to prepare for. Just because a guy is listed at fullback, doesn't mean he can't line up at WR. Just because a guy is listed at TE, does not mean that he can't line up to play fullback, etc. USC might go into the huddle with 22 personnel, but that group may line up with 5 wide (aka, obvious run personnel, into a passing formation), which provides obvious mismatches on the field of play.

What the average fan also does not realize is that every team has to prepare for the SEASON, not just a game. Surely enough, with the technology and brainpower out there, many teams have to actively plan when to unveil new wrinkles to their team over the course of a season to give themselves an advantage in games. Teams will practice formations in fall camp that may not be used until November, simply because they do not want certain teams preparing for that. It's almost the surprise factor, and every team will go through it.

I also learned specific drills from the Defensive Line, such as the 1-2-3 move, the importance of pad level, violent hands, etc. That technique certainly helped me out for my intramural flag football games. At this point, I just want to thank Coach Lupoi for helping me improve my play in the IFC League!

Could you speak about the dynamics of Tedford's personality in practices?  Is he an emotional coach during practices?  A lot of Cal fans have expressed frustration that Tedford doesn't express more emotion.  Do you think that coaches should have to be very expressive to be good coaches?

He's your traditional disciplinarian and football coach. He's emotional when he needs to be, but his style certainly is more along the lines of past, "traditional" football coaches.

In practice, he makes sure that everybody is giving their all at every moment. With the offense, he works more on technique. As for being an emotional leader? That's more put on the roles of other certain coaches.

I'm sure you had ample time to witness a lot of the more unknown younger players take some reps.  Please tell us which underclassman (freshman, or sophomore) you think is going to be a breakout player in another year or two.

DeAndre Coleman is somebody who has shown marked improvement since he stepped foot at Memorial. Like every true freshman, he had his growing pains adjusting to life away from home and the rigorous academic schedule, despite being the biggest guy on the line. But to see him dominate in spurts last year... that's a very good sign! He's a redshirt sophomore this year, and you get the feeling he's going to soon start taking over ballgames...

Just recently, Coach K was fired.  What were the conditioning and weight lifting sessions under his tutelage like?  Did you feel like he was doing an adequate job as a coach?

I feel bad for Coach K. He was a guy that everybody in the program truly liked because of his friendly demeanor. In the weight room, it had the feel of being laid back, but everybody certainly got their reps. If a coach wanted a certain player at a certain weight, Coach K got him there.

With that said, the players rave about Coach B in a different, positive way compared to Coach K. I know Coach K got the job done, and many players loved training with him. But, at the same time, I guess it's just a matter of preference.

Please tell us about Coach Marshall.  He has become one of the more hated coaches in recent times, and the butt of many CGB jokes and memes.  What was his coaching style like?  Did players enjoy having him as a coach?

I don't know much about his coaching styles... only that you could hear him from the other side of the field at times.

After serving as a HydroTech for the team, I saw many players who were 100% dedicated to football, and others who weren't.  Did you feel like you saw this phenomenon too?  If you did see this too, did you feel like this was due to poor coaching and motivation or just because players didn't have their hearts in the game any more?

This is definitely the case, and I'm sure this is happening at every other school, as well. For that reason, I don't feel as if it's because of poor coaching. Remember, during the season, these guys are doing something football related 8-10 hours per day, on top of schoolwork and maintaining a social life. In this setting, it's very easy for anybody to burn out.

Tedford has -- at least publicly -- built this program on the notion that academics come first, and football comes second.  Would you agree that this is an accurate statement regarding the mission statement and goals of Cal Football?  Did you see instances where the coaches had clearly put academics before football?  I remember in my days, it was always academics first.  If players had class during practice, they went to class.  If they had tests or study sessions during practice, they went to those instead.  Is it still like this? 

Definitely. There have been starting players who missed practice or portions of practice on a weekly basis to go to class. Academics are certainly a big emphasis on the athletes here, and rightfully so. Like I mentioned, some of the guys on the team would meet me at 7am on Friday mornings to get tutoring. If academics was not an emphasis, this would definitely not happen.

I think a big portion of Cal's recruiting is the prestige in academics. If an athlete chose Cal without caring about their grades, then they probably chose the wrong school.

There has been a huge amount of discussion of past player(s) who have had negative personalities or negative impacts in the locker room.  As a HydroTech, I saw some players who were team players, and other players who were more "me" players.  Did you see this too?  Did you feel like the team had a good sense of unity while you were a HydroTech?  What does Tedford do to help promote unity?  Were you able to witness or watch any of the official team bonding activities?  If so, what were they like?

When I joined in 2008, you can tell that the emphasis was easily on the team. Budding stars like Jahvid did not purposefully attract tension to themself, but you definitely felt a vibe that they wanted to keep a team-oriented atmosphere in the locker room.

As for coach, the emphasis on unity comes with treating everybody equally. Everybody runs gassers at the end of practice if a field goal is missed... stuff like that.

One of the big criticisms of Tedford's offense right now is that the offense is too "complex" and needs to be simplified.  Would you agree?  As a HydroTech, you got to watch closed practices, and the team prepare week in and week out for various opponents.  Did you feel like the offense varied a lot from week to week?  Or did it mostly stay the same from week to week?

Tedford's offense is definitely complex, but you get the feeling that every offense out there is complex in their own way.

Just like every offense, the team prepares based on a combination of what the offensive strengths are and what they see of the opponent on tape. They might throw in a few new wrinkles here and there, but it heavily revolves around the offensive concept. What Coach Tedford easily emphasized more was that the team be consistent in preparing for the opponent.

Some Cal fans think that the offense has lost its "identity."  Do you feel that the offense needs to re-establish itself?  Is it not doing something which makes it clearly identifiable as a Cal offense?

I feel that Cal needs to establish an identity, and you certainly get the feeling that Coach Tedford feels the same way in shuffling the offensive staff.

We often hear about the complexities of offense and how it takes some guys a while to learn the playbook.  How was the transition to Pendergast's defensive system?  Were there any struggles with the complexity of his system, particularly since they run different blitzes out of so many different formations?

From my time interviewing the players at Scout, the transition had its difficulties, but the players absolutely loved playing in Coach Pendergast's aggressive scheme. For the most part, it's not about the complexities of the scheme, but establishing the tone... "Being the aggressor" as one player said.

You were also a reporter for Scout.com. How did you land that job?

My big bro in my fraternity-- THE Jon Doss-- obviously knew of my interest in sports. At the time, he was working for scout.com, and told me that they needed a reporter to cover the Men's Basketball team for Montgomery's first season. Well, I was down to do the job (free seat at Haas? Count me in!!), and he recommended me. A few days later, I was officially a journalist and had my own seat right behind the student section.

Prior to the 2010 season, the opportunity to cover the football team opened, because Doss left California for graduate school. Sure enough, I had the opportunity to cover the football team in the spring and in the fall, and had an absolute blast doing it.

So you were a reporter and Hydro Technician at the same time? Was it weird to be giving guys water during practice, then to be interviewing them after practice?

I was not both at the same time. I handed out water in 2008 and 2009, and was a reporter in 2010. No conflict of interest!

As a reporter for Scout.com did you watch games from the press box or just watch from the Student Section?

A great perk is that you get a seat in the press box with your name on it. As much as I enjoyed wreaking havoc in the student section, I thoroughly enjoyed having a desk, analyzing the game from up top, and getting the free (albeit, horrible) food in the press box. During the hot games last year-- like Davis-- the luxury of having shade and unlimited supply of Dasani was a plus.

Please tell us what the atmosphere is like in the press box during a game. Have any bizarre or funny stories about being in the press box?

The number one press box rule wherever you go is that there is absolutely no cheering, at any point. Reporters are supposed to be unbiased in their coverage.

Too bad for them, I would be cheering as quietly as possible. For Christ's sake, I am a Berkeley student, working for a Cal-affiliated media site! My reporting was always neutral, but trust me... it was easier to report on the W's than on the L's.

In the press box, the set-up was for the written press to be near midfield, and all the internet guys down on the south end. A good chunk of us would be secretly cheering, doing fist-bumps on big plays, and sometimes complain in unison about a terrible call. Overall, it was a fun experience.

Did your experiences and knowledge that you obtained from being a Hydro Technician in any way aid your job as a reporter?

Knowing a few wrinkles about the team helped me with the analysis portion of my articles. Knowing a lot of the guys personally also made it easier for me to write features or conduct interviews. Because I worked with the team previously, everybody knew that I had good intentions for the team while trying to stay as unbiased as possible. In terms of observing practice, it was rough going from watching practices in its entirety as an HT, to only watching 20 minutes as a reporter. 

How were your interactions with Tedford as a reporter? Did he recognize you as a Hydro Technician?

Most of the questions were asked by Okanes, Crumpacker, Gorcey, etc. But I got a few questions in about practice, and he provided good quotes for me.

Before I came to Cal, I was an intern at Fox Sports Net down in Los Angeles, and had the opportunity to cover Pac-10 media Day and meet Coach Tedford and Desean Jackson. Since then, I have been affiliated with the football team at some position or another. While Coach never asked for my name, I'm pretty sure he knew me as the guy who pretty much followed him around for 4 years. I am also certain that my name was thrown around in the tutoring ring, as well. 

As a reporter for Scout.com, I'm sure you got to know some of the other reporters for other websites and newspapers. Was there a sense of camaraderie between you guys/gals? Did you guys coordinate questions to ask players/coaches beforehand?

The relationship between reporters is interesting. It's like the quarterback competition: everybody is buddy-buddy on the field, but once the business side is in play, everybody is competing to get some sort of lead or advantage. Whether it's in recruiting or position battles, the journalists are gung ho about making sure they are the first to report something, or get a very good article across.

It was awesome working with some talented writers in the Daily Cal, Ryan Gorcey, and the people at BearInsider. It is good to know that there are still people dedicated to working hard and covering news, despite the glaring hole that it is a dying industry.

What was the toughest part about being a reporter?

Just maintaining neutrality at all times, especially when I personally knew a great number of players on the team.

Also, covering the losses. The Oregon game was awesome, because of the sheer excitement and energy of the crowd. But the games like Stanford and Washington were absolutely brutal to cover, because I really felt for the guys. When Washington lined up for that last play, it was running through my mind that my December holiday plans hinged on one play: San Diego or bust. Unfortunately, it did not turn out for the better.

But by far, the toughest part about reporting was going to Reno last year. Cal was favored, off to a great start, and then just got demolished by what wound up being a very good Nevada team. For the game, the press box had these beyond mediocre sandwiches, the wifi was unavailable to me, and, to top that off, there was a rather large column directly in front of me, meaning I could not see anything from the 30-yard line to the 30-yard line. Add dealing with the students rushing the field after the game, and I wanted to punch myself. Instead, I wound up going to the local Harrahs and proceeded to lose about $200. I made the conscious effort to never go to Reno ever again.

What's your favorite memory as a reporter?

Telling people that Keenan Allen was a stud throughout August, and turning out to be right for his first game. I loved the experience of just being a reporter, and going to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff that fans usually do not see. Despite the loss at USC, I got to walk up the tunnel, which is a pretty cool experience in itself. This is in addition to the free food, water, and all-you-can-grab soda bottles. That, and anything Cameron Jordan ever said.

I also covered the Pac-10 Men's Basketball Tournament back in 2010. Covering the second round game against UCLA with Doss, Cal was making a run to pull away late. In one particular sequence late, a UCLA player airballed a 3, and Cal proceeded to quickly drive to the other end and Robertson nailed a 3, which felt like the dagger. Well, Doss and I certainly were not the most humble folks there... we were on the verge of chestbumping! Luckily, we kept our poise.

The best moment though, by far? Cutting off Bill Plaschke from the Men's Restroom at the Coliseum to his annoyance. Not that I have anything against Plaschke, but it was cool to post it on my Facebook, and immediately get notifications that the Daily Cal people "liked" my status. 

Any interest on going on to be sporter reporter in the future?

Unfortunately, not at the moment. I loved being a journalist, but my long-term goal is to do something with statistics. I covered the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl back in January, and got to do statistics for the game, which I absolutely enjoyed. In the short-term, do data analysis. In the medium-term, grad school. After that? Maybe sports statistics. In the long term? General Manager of the LA Dodgers, or the stat guy at Cal games. That would be awesome!!

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Thanks so much to Ken Clampett for taking the time to do this interview with the California Golden Blogs!

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