The sun is setting in Memorial Stadium. Although we're all freezing in the stands, there is a sort of excitement, a warmth radiating through the dimming natural light, the buzz of conversation fragments from the viewers interspersed throughout the west-side stands, and the echoing sounds on the field of coaching demands and player exertion.
There is a feeling of newness in the air. Maybe this is because before Monday night-- for all the football games I've attended-my number of football practices attended was clocking in at a solid zero. But I immediately felt a different energy in Memorial as I made my way down the bleachers to the spot I decided looked the least likely of the available aluminum to induce frostbite.
The guys were divided up into groups, by position, on the field, running some drills with their coaches. The wide receiver group was running in a straight line, dodging dummy-obstacles in their path. This drill might seem straightforward, and the players' levels of quickness, speed, and explosiveness varied in many cases, but their efforts were undeniable. Some of the guys were falling after running as hard as they could towards the dummies and dodging the contact at the last second. The presence and positioning of the dummies was predictable. It would have been easy to run by them and safely avoid any sort of risk of contact or a loss of balance. But these players, prompted by a constant dialogue and communication with the supervising coach, pushed themselves to a point where any opponent, any obstacle was something to be taken seriously. How many times had they seen these stationary objects, pushed them, hit them, run by them? It didn't matter-today, they were new, and they were treated as a new opponent with every repetition. The energy of the team did not waver; rather, it built as each guy ran full speed, then exploded away from his obstacles. It must have taken a lot of imagination to sustain the kind of effort they were putting into every single drill, and I don't know what they were seeing as they worked, but just by watching them run by the three successive dummies, I saw them run by players from USC, Washington, Stanford.
While I had never been able to see a practice in the past-- for all of the energy and time and focus that is placed upon the football team as a fixture of Berkeley--getting this kind of firsthand access to something that I thought I had already understood shed an entirely different light on structures and workings within the team. Sonny Dykes's new practice policy incarnates a coexistence of the traditional and the new. With public practices, we get tradition through the present form of the Cal football establishment as well as the novelty of fresh coaching personnel and an unprecedented accessibility to their philosophies and strategies.
Publicizing practice creates a space in which a demystification of what can be seen as the detached, insular culture of college football. Accessibility replaces enigma; Sonny Dykes is putting his program, his players, and his coaching methods in the public eye, and therefore validating the importance he sees in each individual fan-no financial strings attached. The significance of this reverberates into the realm of the players' performance as well; their actions in practice will be subject to layers of observation-that of their coaches, as well as that of their peers, fans, families, or otherwise-affiliated spectators.
As I walk out of the stadium and consider my options for getting blood to recommence circulation in my extremities, my attention is immediately drawn to what might be the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen in Berkeley. To my right is a gaudy, oversized food-vending station, and just to its left, framed by an open arc of grey stone, is a window of blue ombre, showcasing the glowing silhouettes of the Campanile and the Golden Gate Bridge.
In a way, it's one of the most overexposed, circulated representations of Berkeley. But I had never been able to see it for myself until tonight. And firsthand, it's really spectacular.
I had the opportunity to chat with a few players and coaches after practice.
Running back coach Pierre Ingram talks about the running back stable and gives us a great impersonation of a certain prominent player on the team!
Cornerback Stefan McClure talks more about how he's recovering from his injury and how he's handled the transition back to the field.
Here's an interview I did with McClure for the California Scout site ($). This is the serious part.
This is the funny part.
Wide receiver Bryce Treggs discusses Day 1, how he likes getting back out on the field, and the best aspects of what he's done.
Defensive coordinator Andy Buh discussed his injury, what he likes the most about Berkeley, and how both young and experienced players are faring with the new defense.
Quarterback Zach Kline reflects on the first week of practice and talks about the performance of his team.