Cal's youth movement on DL is about coach, too

August, 12, 2008
8/12/08
1:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

BERKELEY, Calif. -- When I watched Washington roll up 360 yards rushing against California last fall, one thought stood out about the Bears defense, particularly their defensive line.

These guys are terrible.

Two very different things, however, stood out watching Monday's practice.

The Bears -- if they stay healthy -- will be a lot better up front with their new 3-4 defense. They will be more athletic. They will be much deeper.

They certainly pass the sight test -- hello, 6-foot-5, 281-pound Rulon Davis.

And with an impressive foursome of linebackers, my guess is no team will rush for 360 yards against them. Or even half that.

The second thing that stood out is the guy running around barking instructions looked like he forgot to put on his uniform. With his hat turned backwards and unwrinkled face, Tosh Lupoi looked more like a player than an assistant coach.

And, if you followed Cal football during the Jeff Tedford years, you know that, of course, Lupoi was a standout on the defense from 2001-05.

A standout when he was healthy, that is. His career was cut short by a recurrent foot injury.

Which, in part, is why Lupoi, who turned 27 in July, is the youngest position coach in the Pac-10 -- and perhaps in any BCS conference.

"[As a player] he almost worked too hard, almost went overboard," Tedford said. "That's how he ended up hurting himself with his stress fractures."

Now for Tedford, an admitted workaholic who often sleeps in his office, to accuse someone of working too hard is meaningful. Clearly, the coach saw a kindred spirit in the player.

Lupoi's father, John, played at BYU and was a longtime football coach, including a stint at Cal. But Tosh had no plans to pursue coaching; he dreamed only of the NFL. But when he broke his foot for the third time, he started to face the reality of his situation.

And then defensive coordinator Bob Gregory invited Lupoi to spend a game in the press box with him.

"That was the day when I started pondering about doing this for the rest of my life," Lupoi said.

Lupoi spend the past two years as a Cal graduate assistant. When D-line coach Ken Delgado left for Louisville, Tedford didn't worry too much about Lupoi's youth.

Lupoi was smart, hard-working and already was well-versed in the system and personnel.

"He's unbelievably dedicated and passionate about his work, and he's a very good recruiter," Tedford said. "A young guy's got to get their start somewhere and he really deserved the opportunity to fill that position."

Of course, he's only a few years older than the players he's in charge of -- Davis, for example, is 25 after having served three years in the Marines.

No problem, Tedford and Lupoi both said. The trust developed quickly, and Lupoi said he's never felt like the players view him as a peer instead of a coach.

"It wasn't really my goal to prove anything," he said. "It was just to show them as quickly as I could that I could offer them some things to better them as players."

Now he's convinced he's found his life's calling.

"I get so fired up out here, I feel like I'm living through them still," he said. "There's nothing like the reward of seeing players commit themselves to improving and then actually seeing that on film."

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