Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Even after a dutiful warning from a California athletic department staffer that he doesn't want to talk about it, it's impossible for a curious person not to ask California defensive end Rulon Davis about his six months in Iraq as a U.S. Marine.
"Everybody is really inquisitive about that aspect of my life," Davis said. "But I'm playing football now. I'm not in the Marine Corps. I love the Marines. Every time a commercial comes on I get all motivated and pumped up. But at the same time, it's . . . I'm done. I did my deal. I served my country. I'm playing Cal football now. If it comes up, it comes up and I answer any little questions you guys have and that's it."
He was stationed at Al Taqaddum, which is about 10 miles outside of Fallujah. Yes, he saw action. No, he's not going to share war stories.
"It was a combat zone," he said with a tone that suggested it was time to move on to the next topic.
Which should be how Davis is widely known as one of the Pac-10's best defensive ends, but that topic is limited also -- in this instance because injuries have truncated the senior's resume.
Davis, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio College, played in six games in 2006 before a stress fracture in his left leg ended his season. Last year, he missed seven games due to injury. He missed four with a foot injury, but returned to play against Arizona State, when he recorded 1.5 sacks and forced a fumble before a knee injury sent him back to the sidelines for three games.
Davis, who carries a solid 281 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, certainly passes the sight test. He's also been dominant at times during practices.
The hopeful question around the Bears is: What could Davis do if he stays healthy for 12 games?
"I think the sky is the limit as far as that goes," Davis said. "I am going to play 12 games, so I guess we'll see what happens."
Said defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, "He definitely offers us some great play-making ability."
Making a bunch of plays also would help Davis to become the most famous "Rulon". More than a handful of writers (who me?) have slipped up and called him "Rulon Jones" in stories.
"Yeah, I get that a lot," he said.
Davis wasn't recruited out of Charter Oak High School in Covina, Calif., where he played on the offensive line. He'd attended military school in Texas when he was younger and enjoyed the structure and had long wanted to be a Marine. So he enlisted.
While he doesn't want to detail his Iraq tour, he is willing to extol the value of what he experienced as a whole.
"You couldn't put a price on it," he said. "All the things I've learned, the experiences I've had -- I feel like I'm 45 with the knowledge I have and all the experiences I've gained, learning what the real world was really like."
He's 25, by the way, and therefor a lot older than nearly all of his teammates. But he said he views himself as "just one of the guys."
That means talking about the Cal defense as a whole and not himself.
That said, Davis knows that if he plays 12 games, there's almost certainly going to be a 13th -- a bowl game -- and perhaps some games in the future. "I know so," he said of his NFL prospects. "I'm not going to have any of those [injury] problems this year. I need to prove to everybody that I can stay healthy."