Cal cornerback Camryn Bynum's catchphrase is "My life is a movie." So, when he tweeted "A movie with no sequel? Never that!," last October it was a bit cryptic.
But those close to Bynum knew it meant he would be back at Cal for the 2020 football season.
Bynum's movie trailer arrived in Berkeley in 2016 and the film made its Cal premiere the following year as a redshirt freshman. Now a fifth-year senior, the critics have given him great reviews – first-team preseason All-Pac-12, Bednarik and Jim Thorpe Award watch lists, Reese's Senior Bowl Top 250, two-time team captain – to name a few.
Bynum earned Cal's Bob Simmons Award as its most valuable freshman in 2017 after starting all 12 games and contributing 58 tackles to lead all Cal players other than linebackers.
Bynum started every game again and had a tremendous season as a 2018 sophomore before he contemplated declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. But he decided to return as a fourth-year junior and again had a terrific campaign, earning second-team All-Pac-12 respect from the league's coaches and starting all 13 games to extend his current streak to a team-high-tying 38.
But last month, as the team began preparations for the 2020 season, he was taking second-team reps in practice. The natural question would be why?
Bynum's 2020 sequel has been entertaining. Like the plot of any good movie, there have been plenty of twists and turns, and nearly 11 months, between starts No. 38 and 39, which he finally made last Saturday at UCLA when Bynum had his sixth career interception against the Bruins.
While last month's second-team reps overly dramatized the threat of Bynum actually losing his starting job, the vision of seeing him take them was symbolic.
"You gotta earn your spot back," Bynum said.
Bynum's 2020 started out looking pretty normal, arguably even much better than normal.
The Golden Bears were returning most of their 2019 team that finished 8-5 after ending the campaign with three straight victories, including their first wins at Stanford and UCLA in a decade before defeating Illinois in the Redbox Bowl. Bynum briefly flirted with the NFL Draft again but had one more year of collegiate eligibility and was excited about Cal's prospects in 2020. So he quickly and definitively decided to return for a final season with the Bears.
"This whole offseason, starting in January before spring ball, we were putting in crazy amounts of work," Bynum said. "We had so much confidence that this was going to be the season we were going to get over the hump of winning seven, eight games, and we were going to really make a move on the Pac-12. That was the mindset all offseason."
That mindset continued into spring ball that began the first week of March, and Bynum was training at all three defensive back positions – cornerback, nickel and safety – to figure out how he could help the team the most. But less than 10 days and four practices into spring workouts, Bynum had suffered an injury that required minor surgery and ended his spring while the COVID-19 pandemic had also abruptly brought the remainder of Cal's spring practices to a halt for everyone else.
While COVID-19 arguably became one of the world's most disruptive events in the last century, Bynum wrestled with decisions about his football future. He quickly recovered from his injury, but he realized that the type of 2020 college football season he envisioned was in peril because of a virus that was out of his control.
Bynum remained a member of the program throughout the spring and most of the summer, but his decision-making process was hastened on Aug. 11 when the Pac-12 Conference announced that all of its sport competitions would be postponed through the 2020 calendar year. That meant the Cal football season he and his teammates had so looked forward to would not be played.
Bynum's Cal career seemingly came to end less than a month later when he announced that he intended to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. With a final semester of class to finish online and no 2020 Cal football season scheduled, the decision was understandable.
"It has been a pleasure to coach and get to know Cam these last three seasons," Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said when Bynum made his announcement Sept. 6. "Cam is an excellent football player who has a relentless work ethic and is constantly improving his craft. Even more importantly, he is a tremendous person and a great representative of our university."
There was speculation about whether Bynum could still play for the Bears if somehow a 2020 Pac-12 season was salvaged. Three days before Bynum's draft declaration, the Pac-12 announced an agreement with healthcare manufacturer Quidel to administer rapid results testing that could speed up the return of sport competitions. But there was still no 2020 Cal schedule in place and the possibility of Bynum returning seemed remote.
But, after the Pac-12 announced on Sept. 24 that there would be an abbreviated seven-game fall season beginning Nov. 7, the speculation grew while Bynum started to give the possibility of returning serious thought.
"In some ways it was an easy decision, but in others it was a tough call," Bynum said. "There were a lot of factors. I knew I wouldn't want to be away from the game that long if I had a chance to play, but I also knew the risk of coming back to practice and then somebody getting COVID and they cancel the football season again."
On Oct. 5, just one day shy of a month from his announcement that he intended to declare for the NFL Draft, Bynum reversed his decision and started the process of rejoining the program.
First, as a second-team cornerback.
"They put me back at the bottom of the depth chart because I felt like I had to earn something again," Bynum said. "Just hopping right back in there didn't feel right."
He's already more than earned his starting spot back and his teammates selected him as a team captain earlier this month.
"That meant so much to me," Bynum said. "To know that's how my team views me is an honor. I'm thankful that I'm able to impact and help them, and to be seen as a leader of the team."