With academics back in order, sophomore cornerback is at the top of the depth chart
TURLOCK - Atari Callen doesn’t like to sit still for very long. Full of as much energy as any player on the Cal football team, Callen always seems to be in motion. Whether he’s out on the field playing or chatting it up with his teammates on the sidelines, the good-natured sophomore doesn’t seem to want to stop. He’s even more active off the field; Callen is an active participant is several of Cal’s community service programs.
So when the Golden Bears open their season next weekend, don’t expect Callen to be away from the action much at all.
As Cal prepares to break training camp in Turlock Friday, Callen is running with the first team at a cornerback spot. He’s also slated to be one of the Bears’ primary kickoff returners.
“I love returning kicks,” Callen said. “I told coach in spring ball that I want to do kick returns. I want to be back there. I want to be on every special team.”
For Callen, his third set of preseason workouts on the Cal State Stanislaus campus had a different feel. As a freshman in 1999, Callen wasn’t sure if he would play during the regular season. However, after injuries knocked several front-line players out of games, he gained his first action in Cal’s Pac-10 opener against Arizona State and responded with a key interception in the closing minutes to help seal the 24-23 victory. For the rest of the year, Callen saw spot duty at cornerback and additional time on special teams. He even had a start against Oregon State.
But last year had a different twist. He knew going into fall camp that he would be forced to take a redshirt year and would spend most of the season going through drills and working on scout teams.
In the spring, though, Callen realized he had a chance to play a significant role on the 2001 Bears. With injuries pushing fellow cornerbacks Jemeel Powell and LaShaun Ward to the sidelines, Callen got many more reps than he anticipated and emerged with first team status.
“Spring ball was a good start for me,” said. Callen, who played just one year of cornerback at De La Salle High School. “I knew that I was going to play this year and I had to start off early. I needed to go out there and have fun and work hard like I always do.
“This year, I knew I was going to play, so I had to focus on getting as good as I could, each practice, each snap, each time I went on the field,” Callen added. “On every play, I have to go out there and give my best effort and get better every day.”
The effort continued in the summer during workouts with strength and conditioning coach Todd Rice. With almost twice as many players staying in Berkeley as last year, the extra work seems to be paying off.
“Summer was fun this year,” Callen said. “When you have 70 guys out there working, it takes longer, but it’s fun. That’s how you bond as a team, you’re out there working and sweating with each other.”
Now, even though Powell, who set a school record with 16 pass deflections last year, and Ward are healthy, Callen has held onto his No.1 spot. However, he knows that all three, plus opposite corner James Bethea, will see plenty of playing time once the Bears put on the pads for real Sept. 1 against Illinois.
“There’s a lot of depth,” Callen said. “We’re going to go out there and work and fight and battle. This is the deepest we’ve been at Cal. One corner is not going to be able to play the whole game. But you have three other corners behind you who are just as good.”