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Cal Football: Kenwick Thompson Talks Recruiting, SAHPC, Depth Chart, Spring Practice

Last year's recruiting event in Berkeley was the show, with recruiter of the year Tosh Lupoi the man of the hour after landing a top 20 recruiting class for the Golden Bears.  This season's event featured less fanfare, because (a) there had already been a prominent event in Southern California, and (b) the registration for this event came suddenly over only a week's time, so fewer people showed up. Just like the previous event in Los Angeles, it was hosted by Bear Insider (the ESPN Cal affiliate), and Cal linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson was the guest of honor.

dballisloose was at the SoCal recruiting event, and basically covered everything concerning the recruits down pat, so in reporting on this event in my top hat and monocle, I focused mainly on the Q&As. (For those who missed his coverage of the event, go to Part I for the Q&A, and Part II for the recruit analysis). All of the material is after the jump, including the famous Tom Hanks quote (what famous Tom Hanks quote? You'll find out soon enough).

(WARNING: THIS POST IS LONG. Use our "print" button right underneath the title if you're pressed for time and store it for your lunch/coffee/bathroom break and/or commute home.)

The Introduction

First, Jim McGill (Bear Insider recruiting reporter) talked a little bit about the recruiting classes. With regards to the Pac-10 classes (he didn't go into how Utah and Colorado performed), he said there were three tiers of rec

  • Top tier: USC, Oregon, Cal
  • Second tier: Washington, Furd
  • Third tier: Everyone else

McGill seemed pretty happy to divulge how poor he thought UCLA's class was, which usually lands on the top but was solidly in the bottom tier this season. It's a sentiment I'm sure many Cal fans share.

Also, McGill seemed to downplay the fact that Oregon and USC had higher recruiting rankings than Cal.  USC took in 30 recruits and Oregon took 25, numbers higher than Cal, and the number of recruits that a team takes factors into how high a team is ranked on their overall recruiting class. McGill pointed out how Cal won head-to-head battles against Oregon for five prized recruits on five straight days (not sure if we were competing primarily with Oregon for all of them, but he's the insider, so I'll follow his lead). He also pointed out how USC took a lot of guys they wouldn't have normally taken due to the sanctions and the attrition from the sanctions; if their appeal fails, the Trojans could find themselves in big trouble down the line.

McGill believes this class is solid top to bottom, and could turn out to be deeper than either the much-heralded 2005 or 2007 classes (which had some great talent up top but also had a lot of players that didn't pan out at the bottom). Anyone can tell you how important it is to have a class that turns out good individuals, but a team with quality depth can sustain when there's attrition in the trenches.

After that, they showed the recruiting tape (it used to be online). Nothing much of note that you don't already know (how awesome San Francisco is, six professional teams, 29 Fortune 500 companies, big Bay Area corporations, how good a quality education you can get at Cal), but I should mention the Tom Hanks quote (paraphrased from memory).

Bob Costas: What would you rather have on your shelf, an Oscar, or a Heisman Trophy?
Tom Hanks: If I were to play, you know, halfback for the California Golden Bears, then that would be substantial."

(Hanks did not go to Cal--didn't have the grades--but he was a big Cal fan growing up in the East Bay.)

Rex Walheim was listed as Cal's famed alumni. You might recognize him by this photo.


More fun stats:

  • 96.5% of Cal graduates get a job upon graduation.
  • 50% will obtain an advanced degree.
  • Jeff Tedford has put 92 of his players on the All Pac-10 Academic teams
  • Cal has 31 active players on NFL rosters.
  • Athletes at Cal who don't go onto the pro end up earning a 200k median salary.

You knew all that though, right? Onto the fun stuff!



Thompson's turn. He showed a video that had facts, facts, facts about the new Student Athletic High Performance Center, the future building for Cal football. In case you've been hibernating on your Cal athletics love, here's the details.

  • The weight room will now be six times bigger than the original weight room. You can now run a 40 yard dash inside it without worrying about hitting something!
  • The facility will be 142,000 square feet, which will incorporate a 42,000 square foot strength and conditioning center, computers, LCD TVs, a huge multi-purpose area for the general use of Cal athletes, and facilities for X-rays, massage therapy, and various other athletic needs.
  • There will be a 16,000 square foot locker room, which I believe will be equipped to handle the 13 sports that'll be using the SAHPC on a regular basis.
  • There will be an auditorium that can seat up to 150 athletes.

Thompson mentioned how there were a few things that recruits seem to pay attention to above all other things.

  • Wanting to play in the NFL (a case that looks better and better for Cal with each passing year and another two to three Cal players ending up in the pros)
  • Awesome facilities (once a huge drawback for Cal football, now no longer a problem)
  • Academics (big deal for both the kids and the parents, who want to ensure their sons graduate and can have a stable life outside of football if they don't make it to the pros.
  • "When can I play?" (Particularly prominent this season, considering the relative thinness of our current football squad)

Thompson remarked that for a long time in the Tedford era, Cal played up the academics card, but that advantage was totally canceled out by the inability to show progress in building new facilities. Also keep in mind that Cal couldn't show off their pro results compared to the other top college football factories until the last couple of seasons. When Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson, Alex Mack, Brandon Mebane, Justin Forsett, Desmond Bishop, Tyson Alualu, Jahvid Best, Cameron Morrah, Lorenzo Alexander, Zack Follett, and Syd'Quan Thompson all began to thrive on pro football fields around the same time, our ability to market ourselves as a place that could produce pro talent skyrocketed.

Now Cal is thriving in all three categories, and with Rodgers and Bishop coming off a Super Bowl victory, our credibility in developing professional talent has never been higher.

Next part!

Cal 2011 Football Recruiting Class

I won't go over the recruiting film overview (dballisloose has already gone over this with all the gory details about each recruit). Instead, I'll go by who got the most cheers and buzz, starting with the loudest (Bigelow, Moala, Walls, McClure, probably a tie between Scarlett, Barr, and Gibson) in order to get an idea of who Cal fans are most excited to see. That's about all my expert recruiting reporting will get you here.

And now, the grand finale!

Q&A with Kenwick Thompson

Some good stuff. Most of this is going by memory, so questions and responses might be paraphrased; the general ideas are being transmitted throughout. Good stuff on Cal, the recruiting process, and some fun anecdotes mixed throughout.

Question: Has our Hawaii recruiting dropped off as of late?

Answer: We are still active in Hawaii, but none of our needs last season was matched by any of the talent available in the Aloha State.

(Thompson did make a wisecrack about how he wishes he was in control of scouting the Hawaii region and would love to take a trip himself to that area. FYI, Thompson has been generally in charge of scouting the Texas recruiting region the past few years.)

Question: Is Chris McCain in class?

Answer: Yes. He's in class, and since he arrived at Cal has gained 17 pounds in a month and a half. He's expected to be in the mix to be a pass rushing outside linebacker in spring practice. He has a great body for that position and is a hard-working kid.

Question: How did Avery Walls end up coming all the way from SEC country to Bear Territory?

Answer: When we're looking out of state, we're always looking at the top guys, and Walls was definitely a very highly touted safety. Then we found out Walls was an impeccable student-athlete and wanted more than just football, which piqued our interest all the more. Walls graduated early in December and is participating in spring workouts right now.

Question: How does social networking play a role in recruiting?

Answer: It's important to make sure we keep it honest with recruits. With Facebook, you have to be very careful with what you say. All the recruits are always in contact with each other, so you can't tell one recruit one thing and another recruit another thing, since they'll probably find out about what we told them ... from each other.  It's also important to ensure every recruit and their family has a good experience during their trip, because one bad experience by one recruit can resonate afterward and turn into a bad experience for all recruits.

Question: Could you describe the recruiting process?

Answer: It's an 18 month to two year process in trying to recruit one football player.

  • First we look at the Rivals/Scout/(some private collegiate recruiting service I cannot recall) data to try and obtain a dossier of the athletes we want based on our needs for this class.
  • Then we look at the transcripts, make sure their academics will attune to the tough standards most athletes face when coming to Cal.
  • Do they pass the eyeball test? (ex: Is a recruit listed at 6'3" actually really 5'9", but looks 6'3" compared to his competition on tape?)
  • Recruits from outside California will generally take an on-campus visit during the summer if they are serious about being a Golden Bear.
  • Coach Tedford is allowed one in-home visit.
  • Position coaches are allowed more contact: At least six in-person visits, regardless of location; sometimes they're only allowed one phone call a week, sometimes unlimited calls; emails (and I presume by proxy, Facebook contact) are unlimited, but no texting is allowed.
  • Thompson likes to call his targets during the day, because most recruits are getting called during the night and he doesn't want to have his message blend in with the crowd and turn off the recruit from his pitch.
  • (There's a funny story about Thompson liking to use the iPhone and show off what the weather comparison is between the Bay Area and other regions of the country the player might be looking at (I can guess Eugene and Seattle are two such places). Of course, Thompson barely uses Berkeley for their weather forecast, instead putting up some place inland like Pleasant Hill.)

Question: What do you look for in a linebacker?

Answer: Here are some of the things Thompson looks for.

  • Whether he's an athlete, whether he can run and change direction; it just can't be someone who runs straight and can play contain, he needs to be able to do more things
  • He needs to be physical, a striker, someone who embraces contact (someone who shies away from contact is a red flag for Thompson, regardless of his athleticism--he won't have the toughness to succeed at the D-I level).
  • He'll want to play in the pros, so he'll strive to improve at every opportunity.
  • With regards to the inside linebacker in particular, he must have intelligence (which he tends to figure out face-to-face rather than on gametape), good fundamentals, have good pad level, and use their hands well.

Question: Why no offensive tackles? We definitely need them.

Answer: Offensive tackles are probably the hardest position to recruit for, since their length/size is hard to find on the high school level. I believe a direct quote from Thompson was "God doesn't make many players gifted to be 6'7", 6'8", 300 pound athletes with great footwork". Plus the few tackles that do exist on that level are quickly being competed for by the nation's top college football programs. There's a reason NFL offensive tackles are some of the highest paid athletes in all of football. It's the reason we brought in Matt Williams to try and fill in an immediate need.

(Note: We will be looking at a lot of offensive tackles for next season. More on that in a later post.)

Question:  Do we recruit players based on our needs or their needs?

Answer: Both. We look at recruits who fit the type of player we're looking for this year, and we then make sure the players we're recruiting are interested in playing those positions. An example is Stefan McClure, who played both wide receiver and cornerback in high school, but ended up wanting to play cornerback in college. This aligned perfectly with our need for defensive backs this year.

Question: What is the current Cal tailback situation? Are all the injured running backs on their way back?

Answer: Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson is the closest to coming back and should participate throughout spring. Trajuan Briggs is further along than Dasarte Yarnway, who is in danger of missing the entire spring.

(Although he wasn't mentioned by name, I'm guessing it was implied Isi Sofele is currently healthy, and will be receiving first-team snaps come spring practice.)

Question: Any outrageous recruiting anecdotes you can share with us?

Answer: Thompson told a funny story that I won't mention here. (HA! That's why you pay the money for these things!)

He did bring up one pitch he hears over and over again by many of the "irresponsible" recruiters out there is "I will get you [Recruit X] into the NFL". This is a direct quote from Thompson: "No coach can get a player into the NFL", implying only players can get themselves into the NFL through their work ethic, preparation...and a little bit of luck too.

Question: I've heard USC's facilities are not that good.

Answer: They're not the greatest, but they use other things (tradition, the city of LA, all the winning, constant television exposure) to surmount those issues. And they're ready to upgrade their facilities in any case.

Question: How do we reconcile the academic standards to our recruiting basis?

Answer: We increase our recruiting pool (outside of California) to get kids who will meet our academic standards. We have an academically very strong class, where most of our best athletes have the best grades too (3.5 GPA and above).

Question: How much are offers based off of recruiting rankings?

Answer: We do not give out offers solely based off of Rivals/Scout rankings.

Question: Does it help to have a guy like Moose [Mustafa Jalil] helping along the recruiting process?

Answer: Moose did talk to other players, it was always a big help. (Also an assist to Todd Barr's mom!)

Question: How's Cecil Whiteside?

Answer: Cecil will be considered a true freshman. He got his academics in order and he's expected to contribute this spring. He's around 231 pounds; I weighed him myself two-and-a-half hours ago!

Question: What's the Cal football offseason training regimen looking like?

Answer: Didn't get all the details, but here's what I caught.

  • With Memorial Stadium torn up, Cal is practicing on the old rugby field at Witter. They have (for the moment) ripped up the grass and replaced it with field turf, which I believe will be the surface Cal will be playing on at AT&T Park.
  • The defensive line and offensive line lifts four days a week.
  • The skill position players lift three days a week. They spend the other day working on the skills needed to improve their overall play.
  • Monday and Friday are called "Championship conditioning" days, which I assume refer to the new workouts Coach Blasquez has implemented.
  • Today football practice started up around 7 AM, with dinners around 6:30 PM. There are usually two sessions (morning dedicated to weights and conditioning, afternoons to more football-specific practice, particularly the seven-on-seven and one-on-one workouts). It is an NCAA rule that players are only allowed to practice eight hours a week, so it's an educated guess that the morning conditioning workouts are mandatory and the afternoon football workouts are voluntary.
  • Position coaches are allowed to see players ten hours a week, so they usually split it up into two/two-and-a-half hour segments each day of the week. They are not allowed to be on the field with players when there are footballs present. I believe the same restrictions apply to Tedford; they might even be stricter.
  • Strength and conditioning coaches ARE allowed to be present during football practice and are often present throughout the workouts, along with student trainers.
  • It's often up to the football seniors to follow through and execute the vision of their coaches in practice.

Question: What is the impact of Ashley Ambrose (new defensive backs coach)?

Answer: Pretty good. Ambrose has great NFL experience, having played in the pros for 13 years. Defensive back recruits want to play at the next level and want to know what it takes, and Ambrose can be a good teacher in both regards. He also recruited players like McClure and Willis at Colorado, so he was already familiar with them. They were more than comfortable with him taking over the role as their new position coach.

Question: Are former Cal players [in the NFL] involved in the recruiting process?

Answer: We can't organize contact with recruits and former players. We do make them aware of the success of NFL players, but also aware of the Cal players who graduated with a degree from the school. They're as big a part of the  success story of the Cal athlete as those who made it to play on Sunday.

Question: Which players from the freshmen class do you think will get a chance to play?

Answer: Tiny [Moala]. The tackle [Williams]. At least one of the tailbacks. All of the defensive backs will have a chance. Again, a lot will depend on how quickly the players can acclimate themselves to the speed of the college game, process the information quickly enough and have the mental acuity to make the right decisions, and adjust to the rigorous academic regimen over summer bridge.

Question: Which players from the previous class [last year's redshirts] will make the biggest impact?

Answer: Whiteside will contribute for sure. Geoffrey Gibson was a beast on the scout team, was very physical and had to learn the system, and could be in the mix for the offensive guard two deep. Three of the receivers from last year's class (Tevin Carter and Kaelin Clay I'm pretty sure are two of them; Coleman Edmond's probably the other) will be playing.

Question: How about Keni Kaufusi and Gabe King?

Answer: Keni is healthy off his shoulder injury. Gabe will get his chance to play; he's very physically talented.

Question: Do we use big out-of-conference matchups like Ohio State and Texas as recruiting tools?

Answer: We do. We like to tell Texas kids about our upcoming matchup with the Longhorns as a way to get them excited about future games down the road (since the kids from every incoming class should get a shot at Texas).

Question: How tough is it to control the information about a silent commitment?

Answer: It's tough, but we do our best to honor the commitment and allow the recruit the opportunity to make his announcement in the manner he wants to.

Question: I forget what the question was, but it had something to do with regional recruiting.

Answer: You have groups of kids who are comfortable with each other, like Puka and Tiny from Grant, the North Carolina kids (in Keenan and King and McCain and Harris), and all the Texas kids. People forget players are the biggest recruiters, and they're allowed to recruit old teammates because they have a preexisting relationship.

Question: Why have we not recruited more fullbacks/kickers and offered them scholarships?

Answer: We've had success with walk-ons like Chris Manderino and Will Ta'ufo'ou and we'll probably continue to go that way, but rest assured Tedford knows how important fullbacks are.  As for kickers and punters, it's really hard to find a scholarship for remarkable kickers and it's best to see how walk-ons perform. People underestimate the importance of a long-snapper actually, and how it important it is to have a guy like Matt Rios.

Question: What are the biggest changes that have occurred this offseason outside of coaching changes?

Answer: Changes in the strength and conditioning staff might have the biggest impact. We won't see the changes in action until you see us play at Candlestick to start the 2011 season.

Question: Who's calling plays?

Answer: I don't know, I focus on the defensive side. Perhaps Coach Tedford is calling plays, perhaps Coach Michalczik (current offensive coordinator) is. All I know is Tedford will be working with the offensive staff (run game coordinator Ron Gould, pass game coordinator Eric Kiesau, and Coach M) to design gameplans for Saturdays. Perhaps Coach knows already, but he hasn't told me about it yet.

Question: Do kickers intentionally NOT try to kick the ball on kickoffs into the end zone?

Answer: No. But I will tell you as a former defensive player on special teams, we will gladly trade depth for height. Hang-time is important; if we can get a 4.5+ second hang time on a kick that only gets to the ten-fifteen yard line, that's better than a 3.8 second hang time on a kick that gets to the one yard line, because it allows the defenders to get in place and make a stop. Defenders want to be at the 25 yard line when the returner catches the ball.

Question: Discussion about the mental fragility of the team...not really sure what the question is.

Answer: What frustrates us most is the inconsistency. Our team will play great one week and then the performance isn't up-to-par the next week. That's what we want to fix this offseason.

I have a quote on my office that says "Consistency is a talent". We're going to be working on consistency. I'd rather have a player giving me 4.7s than a player giving me 4.8s half the time and 4.3s the rest of the time. We want less of the ebbs and the flows and more dependability from the young men we put on the field.

Question: When's spring practice?

Answer: A month and a half or so. We'll have some updates on the CalBears website the sooner we get to those dates.

This year we'll be doing something special and taking it on the road a couple of times (I presume some of  these practices will be open) to help generate momentum and practice travelling as a unit. Sites include ...

  • San Jose
  • Sacramento
  • Another place in the Bay Area

Last question: How will the team be spending its time before home games this year?

Answer: We haven't decided, but they'll be on the other side of the Bay [in San Francisco] on Friday nights, that's for sure.