Bigger Than Football
BERKELEY – Marqez Bimage wanted to play football.
More important, he wanted to make a difference.
The Cal outside linebacker is only on the Golden Bear roster because he was already coming to Berkeley as a master's student. It was only after the former Texas defensive end was accepted to Cal's Cultural Studies of Sport in Education program that he sought a spot on the football roster.
"There aren't a lot of times that you have someone who is enrolled in school and is a powerful and experienced player who values education and knocks on the door and says, 'Hey, I want to play for you,'" Cal football director of player personnel Zac Bocian said. "Once we were able to connect all the dots, we were happy to have him join us."
Bimage has become an important member of the Bears' linebacking corps and had a fumble recovery during last week's game at Washington. He played three years at Texas before opting out last season due to COVID-19.
After graduating from Texas with a degree in corporate communications/public relations, Bimage wanted to enroll in a master's program that fit his academic pursuits and was connected with former Cal cross country runner Andrew Cooper, who was also a student in the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education program. After discussing Bimage's interests, Cooper encouraged him to research the master's program.
"Once I met Marqez, it became clear to me that he would fit very well in the program," Cooper said. "You realize immediately he has immense passion. He has a passion to serve his community – Marqez is incredibly inspiring in that regard. The moment I heard his story and just saw how passionate he was about serving his community and inspiring the next generation of leaders, I knew that everything else would figure itself out."
Bimage grew up in Brenham, Texas, a small town between Houston and Austin where, like most cities in the state, football is revered. Bimage was a gifted athlete who received scholarship offers from several major programs, but he realizes many of his counterparts weren't as fortunate.
Bimage developed a passion that was a product of his own personal experience – to help kids understand that football isn't the only path to success.
"I personally feel that there is a problem in certain communities where sport is the way to get out of a certain situation, and it's pushed at a very young age," Bimage said. "I feel like I've seen that in the great state of Texas. I love the state, but I think football is overemphasized in some ways – that it's a way for kids to get out, and I think that's not the only way to be successful in life."
The more Bimage found out about the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education program, the more it seemed like the perfect fit. Cooper introduced Bimage to Derek Van Rheenen, the director of the program and a former Cal soccer player who is a member of the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame.
"(Bimage) and I probably had three or four Zoom meetings and just got to know each other," Van Rheenen said. "I think by the end of it, both of us were committed. I wanted him in my program, and he wanted to be in my program. He was very clear from the get-go – I'm talking to you because I want to earn my master's from Berkeley. If football happens, great. If it doesn't, I'm still very committed to your program."
Fellow Cal outside linebacker Kuony Deng was also an acquaintance of Bimage's and encouraged him to contact the football program. The Bears didn't have any scholarships available at the time but told Bimage he could have an opportunity as a walk-on.
"I thought he would love it here for a lot of the same reasons I do," Deng said. "It just kind of made sense. I think he's exactly where he's supposed to be. I think he's found what he's looking for in the program that he's in, and that is what he was looking for before he ever put a Cal jersey on."
Bimage had never been to the Bay Area – much less Cal's campus – before making the drive from Austin to Northern California a week after he received his degree from Texas in May. He began working out with the Bears in the summer and eventually earned a scholarship a day before the fall semester began. Bimage has appeared in all four games this season and made six tackles along with the fumble recovery.
"I came here for graduate school. I was not sure I was going to get a spot (on the team) at all," Bimage said. "I just came in with the mindset of doing what I needed to do and working hard every day. Not playing ball would have been a tough pill to swallow, but I would have made it work in some way. I wanted to continue my education here. Nothing was guaranteed."