It's hard to blame Valentino Daltoso if he sometimes needs a little reminder what position he's playing.
Cal's sixth-year senior has started at least 10 games at every position along the offensive line except center during his time at Berkeley, demonstrating an uncommon versatility. He's moved around so much that at times his muscle memory has led him in the wrong direction.
"I remember playing in a game up at Washington State and I went down in my right guard stance but I was playing left guard," Daltoso said. "Luckily, I think somebody called a timeout."
It would be hard to find an offensive lineman in the country as versatile and valuable as Daltoso. A transfer from Oregon, he started nine games at right guard as a freshman in 2017 before moving to left guard for the first 10 games of 2018. He played left tackle for the final three games of his sophomore year.
He started nine games at left tackle as a junior while also seeing time at both guard spots. After playing in just one game at left tackle in the abbreviated COVID-19 2020 season, he has started every game this season at right tackle.
"It just shows how versatile he is, his football intelligence, and his ability to communicate," Cal offensive line coach Angus McClure said. "It takes a special person to play multiple positions."
Each position along the offensive line has its own set of challenges and techniques, and Daltoso has been a quick study each time he has made the transition. He said moving to different sides of the center presents a bigger challenge than switching from guard to tackle and vice versa.
"Moving from right guard to left guard is kind of like writing right-handed your whole life in school and then going to take the SAT and they tell you have to take it left-handed," said student assistant coach Michael Saffell, who was Daltoso's teammate along the offensive line for four years before medically retiring prior to this season. "He's had to do it four times. He's probably ambidextrous by now – all the moving and shaking that we've had to do with him."
McClure called Daltoso "one of the craftiest players I've ever coached," and that intelligence has helped him make the position switch each time.
"Mentally, he is ahead of his opponent," McClure said. "He does a good job of film study, understanding the schematics, understanding the techniques and understanding the defense. Someone who has played that many positions – he has gone against all types of different people along the defensive front. I think he has the ability to compare and contrast, and he uses that to his advantage."
While moving from the one side of the line to the other may present the biggest challenges, there are still major adjustments to make when switching from guard to tackle and back.
"I don't think people understand the difficulty of it," Saffell said. "They're not asking guys in the NFL to do what Val has been doing. For him to be doing that in college in the short time frame he's had, it's something to be said about the way he works, how coachable he is and the amount of effort he puts in – he loves this game and loves this team."
While acknowledging it has its challenges, Daltoso has embraced all of his movement along the offensive line. Not only has it helped him consistently stay on the field – he's made 44 career starts heading into Saturday's game at UCLA – he knows it's helped the team be successful as well.
"Of course, it would be easier to be a four-year guy entrenched at one spot," Daltoso said. "But I had to work through a lot, and I think I'm better for it. I just wanted to find my way on to the field, so if I can play all of those positions, that's maximizing my chances to get out there. I didn't really plan it like this, but it's pretty cool. To have that trust in my coaches to be able to put me in there in a game at a position that isn't what I came in playing or even the position I played the week before – it means a lot. I'm glad it's happened this way."