BERKELEY – Matt Horwitz was right where he was supposed to be.
He believed it when he knocked on the door of Cal's football offices unannounced during the summer of 2017, and he continued to believe it during four years of waiting.
So when he finally got his chance to trot on to the field as part of the Golden Bears' kickoff team last Saturday at TCU, he didn't feel overwhelmed by the moment. He felt empowered.
"I've missed playing football," Horwitz said. "I love Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – those have been my Saturdays for the past four years. But being able to go out there and have my role be something more than practice – I felt like nobody could stop me. I felt like I was going to run through a wall."
Horwitz's display of commitment, perseverance and patience is rare to find anywhere, but especially in the modern landscape of college football. Instead of transferring or simply quitting, the walk-on spent the previous four years simply doing the right thing – practicing hard, excelling on the scout team, contributing to the team culture and more.
All without playing a single snap in a game.
"At the end of the day, this is ultimately why you get into football from a coaching perspective," Cal special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle said. "It's rewarding, and you know he's going to carry this a long way, no matter what he does in life. I don't know there's a better story in the country of a guy refusing to give up."
Make no mistake, Horwitz has wanted to play. He has consistently sought feedback from Ragle and the coaching staff to find out what he can do better and how he can improve his chances of getting on the field.
A fifth-year senior, 2021 marked Horwitz's last chance.
"At first, the kid was starting to get on my nerves," Ragle joked. "But that's when you are in the thick of the season. Sometimes you're so deep in the forest, you can't see the trees. If you take a step back and take the 50,000-foot view, you wish all guys have the commitment he has. With his work ethic, consistency and persistence, he finally got his shot."
Horwitz showed up to practice last Tuesday to find his name listed as a starter on the kickoff team depth chart. Finally, after Cal scored a touchdown with 1:43 left in the first quarter Saturday, Horwitz took his position with the kickoff squad.
"It was a long time coming," Horwitz said. "I was overjoyed. I had all these emotions. Five years of working every day to try to get to something. I had some unfinished business, and it felt really, really rewarding."
The Bears kicked off six times against the Horned Frogs, and it was the third one that Horwitz will remember the most. Moving upfield, he shed two blocks before registering a solo tackle on TCU returner JD Spielman.
There was no wild celebration. Horwitz simply jogged off the field with no fanfare. But there was a message.
"I stood up and thought, 'my feet are where they are supposed to be.'" Horwitz said. "It may have looked like a routine tackle on a kickoff, but for me it felt validating."
By all accounts, Horwitz earned more playing time on the kickoff team after his play against TCU. It was quite a development for a student-athlete who simply dropped by Cal's football offices as an incoming freshman in 2017, accompanied by his mom, Jennifer, and introduced himself to then-defensive line coach Tony Tuioti. After sending the coaching staff film of his time at University High School in Los Angeles, he was invited to training camp that fall.
He's been there ever since, waiting for a chance that finally came Saturday.
"Matt is one of those guys you just can't help but root for," Travers Family Head Football Coach Justin Wilcox said. "He has put in a ton of work over the last five years, and to see all of that effort pay off with an important role on our kickoff cover team is extremely gratifying. I couldn't be happier for him. He's earned his spot with relentless perseverance."