Mekari brothers' tough love in the trenches could help boost Cal

For the brothers Mekari, Cal’s practice field is a bit like Las Vegas. What happens there, stays there.

So when Tony Mekari, a defensive tackle for the Bears, decides he wants to give younger brother and offensive lineman Patrick an extra shot after the whistle, so be it. Nothing terribly violent, mind you. Maybe just a forearm to the ribs while they are on the ground. Or perhaps a quick helmet slap on Patrick’s way back to the huddle. Call it a reminder of his place in the pack. All in the name of brotherly love.

But once practice is done, all is forgiven and forgotten. At least in theory.

“We rarely talk about football off the field or outside of the locker room,” said Patrick, a sophomore. “We go all out against each other and that’s the end of it.”

“Little,” of course, is relative in this case. Because the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Patrick Mekari now towers over his older defensive lineman brother, who checks in at 6-1, 280 pounds. It was around Patrick’s sophomore year at Westlake (California) High School -- where Tony also went -- that Patrick surpassed his older brother.

“I kept saying I was taller. I knew he was taller, but I’m not going to admit it,” said Tony, a redshirt junior. “I still won’t admit it.”

Though on opposite sides of the trenches, they are united in the single purpose of continuing to build on Cal’s success from 2015: The Bears earned a 7-5 mark, reached a bowl game for the first time since 2011 and won a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

It won’t be easy, and both know it. The Bears are in rebuilding mode on offense with a quarterback competition in the works to replace presumptive first-round draft pick Jared Goff. Not only that, they are replacing almost all of an outstanding receiving corps. The offensive line figures to be a strength for the work-in-progress offense, which also includes new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.

“With Jared leaving and the wide receivers leaving and the offensive coordinator leaving, we thought this might be a tough spring,” Patrick said. “But it’s been going pretty smoothly. Coach Spavital has been controlling things really well. It’s a similar offense, but there are some little things that are different. … I think we’re coming together a lot quicker than we thought we would.”

Where Patrick fits in remains to be seen. He’s slated as a backup left tackle on the spring depth chart. But he’s got playing experience at guard and he’s being shuffled all across the line this spring. That sets up some fun competitions with Tony during practice.

“Every time I’m inside, we’re going head-to-head,” Patrick said. “It’s a lot of fun. We push each other really hard, but we always want what is best for each other.”

Even though that sometimes comes with a little gentle ribbing. Asked if he thinks Patrick would make a good defensive lineman, Tony responded: “He’d have to lose about 300 pounds first.”

Tony, who posted 16 tackles last season, including a sack, said he likes the direction of Cal’s defense. The Bears upped their sacks from 16 in 2014 to 28 last season -- the plus-12 differential being the largest gain of any Pac-12 team. They also shaved more than nine points per game off their defensive scoring average while adding 10 more turnovers (27) than the year before.

“We knew we had to get better and I feel like we did last season,” Tony said. “It felt good that we were able to pick up from where we were a season ago. We had guys returning so we didn’t have to restructure everything. I feel like that’s happening again. Guys are playing fast and picking up where they were last season. The more time you have in a season, the more successful we’re going to be.”

And Cal fans might look ahead to the 2021 recruiting class, where another Mekari could be coming through the pipeline. Their youngest brother, Jacob, is an eighth grader and about to start playing football next week.

“He’s on the smaller side, but he’ll shoot up the way Patrick did,” Tony said.

Tony recalls the first time the two squared off in practice when Patrick was a freshman. It was the “board” drill, where an offensive and defensive lineman stand on either side of a strip of wood and basically get after each other. Think of an Oklahoma drill without extra linemen or a running back.

“He beat me,” Tony said. “The family still gives me a hard time about that. But he’s a good lineman. He’s strong, but he doesn’t lean. He knows how to use his weight. It’s been a lot of fun going against him.”