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Holmoe optimistic about his make-or-break season (again)

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Friday August 10, 2001

Listening to Cal head coach Tom Holmoe assess his chances of surviving another year at the helm of the football program on Thursday, some listeners couldn’t help but feel they’d heard this speech before. 

“The reality is that if we don’t win, then I’m not going to be here (next season),” Holmoe said Thursday at the Bay Area college football press conference.  

Now compare that to Holmoe’s comments at last year’s event: 

“This season is my last chance to prove myself here,” he said last August. “We have to win this year.” 

Well, a 3-8 record probably wasn’t what Holmoe had in mind for the 2000 season, but that’s just what he got. But unlike last year, Holmoe no longer has former Cal Athletic Director John Kasser in his corner; replacement AD Steve Gladstone isn’t likely to give Holmoe a contract extension without a winning season in 2001. 

Holmoe deflected questions about his future on Thursday, instead focusing on his players and what he sees as the best squad in his five years with Cal. 

“It’s not about me by any stretch of the imagination. It’s about our program, about the guys that we’ve brought in and how much better they can be this year,” he said. “This is a big year, however you want to define big, but this is a good year, personnel-wise, to be heading into.” 

Holmoe said the strength of this year’s team should be its depth. The Bears don’t have any big stars on the magnitude of defensive end Andre Carter, who was the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft, but for the first time should have experienced backups at nearly every position. 

One position that may not, however, is tailback. The Bears had three seniors-to-be at that position in spring practice, but at least one is gone for certain, with another in doubt. While starter Joe Igber, last year’s leading rusher, is certain to return, classmate Saleem Muhammed decided to transfer to Portland State when it became apparent he would be third on the depth chart. That left Joe Echema as the experienced backup to Igber, who is expected to carry the load. But Echema slipped up in the classroom, failing to meet the NCAA minimum limit on units for the year and was ruled ineligible. The team is appealing, and will find out Echema’s status next week. If the NCAA denies the appeal, Igber will be the only tailback on the roster with any college experience. Backup duties would likely fall to true freshmen Will Scott and Terrell Williams. 

Igber, who rushed for 901 yards last year, is undersized at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, and was platooned with Echema and Muhammed last year to keep all three fresh. But new offensive coordinator Al Borges has made it clear that he wants Igber to get the lion’s share of the carries no matter who his backup is. The question whether Igber can stand up to a full season of pounding is a valid one, and Holmoe knows he needs a dependable backup. 

“I think the first guy (Igber) is terrific,” he said. “But we have to determine the depth, and we’ll have to see how that goes. That’s what camp is all about.” 

The Bears head up to Turlock on Saturday to begin two weeks of training camp at Cal State Stanislaus with questions at several positions. On offense, both receiver slots and the tight end position are wide open, with a multitude of candidates for each spot. The defense is even more wide open – just four full-time starters from last season return to their positions. But as Holmoe indicated, the problem isn’t how to fill the defense out; it’s how to choose among several qualified candidates. 

The graduation of Carter and defensive tackle Jacob Waasdorp opened two spots on the defensive line. There are seven candidates for playing time on the line, with no clear favorites. Scott Fujita is the only linebacker guaranteed a starting slot, and four veterans will battle for the two inside positions. 

The cornerback positions are the most intruiging. Juniors Jemeel Powell and LaShaun Ward both had spectacular moments last year as part-time starters, but the return of sophomore Atari Callen, who missed last year with academic issues, has clouded the issue. Also vying for a spot is sophomore James Bethea, who came on strong at the end of last season when Ward went down with an internal injury after starring in a win over UCLA. 

“A guy like Andre you’re not going to replace, a guy like Jacob you’re not going to replace. But we have great depth this year,” Fujita said. “On the defensive line, we’ve got four guys at each spot who can help us on the field. We can get a good rotation in and keep guys fresh. And the secondary is so much more seasoned now, it’s going to be outstanding.”