Back In Camp: Football
When a group of Cal football players announced they were taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility that was granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19, they revealed their intentions on their social media accounts with a message:
The business of finishing began Friday.
The Golden Bears opened up 2021 training camp at California Memorial Stadium, and included on the field were eight "super seniors" that made the decision to return to Cal for another season. Each student-athlete has his own individual reasons for remaining in Berkeley, but there is a cohesive theme among them – finishing the job they started in a very challenging 2020.
"We didn't finish the season the way we wanted to and we didn't get the amount of games we expected (last year)," said safety Elijah Hicks, one of the super seniors who is back for another year. "It feels good to be able to come back with my guys – my fellow super seniors who I've been with for awhile now. I'm just thankful I got the opportunity to play again."
The Bears were only able to play four games last season because of COVID-19, and went 1-3. Along the way, there were quarantines, last-minute cancellations and additions, and a whole lot of hoops through which to jump.
In the big picture, the Bears were dealing with football challenges against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic. But in the football sense, it was extra frustrating because there were such high hopes surrounding the team following a strong finish to 2019.
"Since we only got those four games, we definitely wanted to come back and play some more," said sixth-year senior outside linebacker Cameron Goode, an All-American candidate whose return gives Cal's already formidable defense even more of a boost. "It's another year to get back in the locker room with each other and just have a full season. It's an opportunity a lot of us wanted."
After finishing the 2019 campaign on a three-game winning streak – which included a victory over Stanford in the Big Game and a win over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl – there was a lot to be excited about for 2020. National publications predicted big things for the Bears, who were chosen to finish second in the Pac-12 North by and garnered three first-place votes in the league's annual preseason media poll.
But as it did for everyone, the season didn't go as planned. With many of the key players from 2019 still on the roster, 2021 gives the Bears the opportunity to make good on the pre-pandemic excitement that surrounded the program.
"We've had a great offseason – one we didn't have last year," sixth-year cornerback Josh Drayden said. "This is a great opportunity for us – an opportunity we didn't have last year. This is probably the most excited I've been in all my time here, and I've been here a long time."
Another recurring motivation to come back among Cal's super seniors is where they already are. Drayden said attending a place like Cal made his decision to return easier, and all involved are excited to spend more time with their Golden Bear family.
"The school, from the alumni support to the fans – it's just been a lot of support from the Cal community," Hicks said. "I've been treated with a lot of love – that definitely makes it easier when you have that type of support."
While the Bears begin training camp still dealing with pandemic challenges, they are in a much better place than last fall. The team has been allowed back in its locker room and can have team meetings inside, and isn't forced to split into groups for practice. Training camp began on its scheduled date, and Cal is ready to welcome back a stadium at full capacity this season.
"You're not so concerned if we are going to be able to practice today," Travers Family Head Football Coach Justin Wilcox said. "Am I going to get pulled out of a meeting? We're not totally out of the woods on any of that, but it's much smoother than it was a year ago."
The Bears kick off the 2021 season on Sept. 4 by hosting Nevada.