Mohamed A Leader For Golden Bear Defense
by DJ Philippe
Every team hopes to have an individual that possesses both the special characteristics and attributes that define a natural leader. Every team hopes to have that one player whose actions speak so much louder than what they say and whose attitude is contagious to all that are part of the team.
For the California Golden Bears, that individual is fifth-year senior linebacker Mike Mohamed.
Growing up as the only boy and the oldest of six siblings, Mohamed's work ethic was molded in a competitive household in Brawley, Calif., where he and his sisters challenged each other in everything from board games to bathroom space.
"We're a highly competitive family, and to this day we still have Scrabble games together and talk trash," Mohamed said. "Everything from grades, sports, board and video games, we are highly competitive."
But it was through his curiosity that he discovered a natural ability for the game of football, and the sport quickly developed into a passion.
"When I was in the fourth grade, me and two of my cousins decided to give it a try," he said. "We had always played tee-ball, baseball and basketball so we said 'Hey, let's give football a shot.'"
With his father, Mike Sr., as his coach, Mohamed started developing immediately in Pee-Wee and Midget football.
"He picked things up pretty quickly. He was one of the faster boys on the team and wasn't scared of hitting anybody," his father said. "A lot of kids in Pop Warner football are not big hitters, they usually just go after the ball and don't put their nose down. Michael seemed to relish the role of hitting people and shedding blocks. He got to be good at that."
During his senior year in high school, Mike received the attention of several schools in the Pac-10, but it was Cal that piqued his interest the most.
"I was looking at some other Pac-10 schools — UCLA, Arizona State, and Stanford — but I think the thing that closed the deal was when I took my trip here to Berkeley," Mohamed recalled. "I felt that I just fit in nicely with the players, all of the coaches and the belief system that they had here. I already knew that Cal was a great academic school and then when you added the football part to it, it was just a win-win situation for me."
Since his arrival in 2006, Mohamed has made an impact. He is on target to receive his bachelor's degree in business administration by December with a GPA of 3.5. Twice he has earned first-team Pac-10 All-Academic recognition and last year added District 8 All-Academic honors from CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine for the first time. He is also on national watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player), Rotary Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker), The Lott Trophy (Impact player of the year) and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player).
"He's a great player, a great leader. He's solid in all areas and brings a lot of stability to our defense," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said. "He's a very smart guy who understands everything that he's doing and I think that he's a calming force. He's also a guy who can light a fire under people so going into his senior year, he's one of our mainstays on defense. He's done a nice job for us."
Mohamed's work ethic and preparation has helped him develop into a team leader who rubs off on his teammates.
"Mike has probably played the most snaps from scrimmage of any defensive player. He's played all four linebacker positions and so he knows the entire defense," Cal linebacker coach Kenwick Thompson explained. "He knows where everybody lines up and that goes back to his intelligence. All of the guys that play with him trust him, they turn to him for leadership as far as making calls and knowing where to line up. We expect a lot out of him. On and off of the field I think that he's the kind of person that will do everything that he needs to do to prepare and that will rub off on the other guys and that, in turn, will rub off on how we play."
Mohamed has heard about the recognition he has received in the preseason and the possibility of capturing some major awards, but preparing to play and win with his teammates is his primary focus.
"I'm aware of all of the awards, but I just want to go out and play and have fun with my teammates while winning games," Mohamed said. "All of the accolades do motivate me for the season, but I would much rather go to the Rose Bowl and win before making All-American or winning any awards."
It's not every day that a young man with five sisters develops into a top-tier college football player, but Mohamed seems to be a natural.
"Obviously, we are very proud parents," his father said. "He's turned out to be every bit of the man that we would have hoped that he'd become. He is a very hard working, very grounded young man and we'd like to think that we had something to do with that."
Good parenting, raucous games of Scrabble and epic battles for the bathroom can take you a long way. Just ask Mike Mohamed.
Mohamed and the Golden Bears will host in-state rival UCLA on Saturday, October 9 at 12:30 p.m. PT.
Photo courtesy of GoldenBearSports.com