Three seniors are competing for final
spot alongside Klotsche and Nixon
Four players. One starting job. The math isn’t hard to do.
With two of Cal’s starting linebacker spots occupied by seniors John Klotsche and Matt Nixon, four special teams standouts are spending the fall battling for the last spot. Three of them are seniors, looking for a chance to shine in their final season in Berkeley.
The leader for the position appears to be Paul Ugenti. A senior who has played mostly special teams for the last two seasons, Ugenti had a strong spring and has taken most of the reps with the first squad so far this fall. A highly-touted recruit at safety in 1998, Ugenti put on weight this summer to help him in run support, while his agility allows him to cover receivers out of the backfield as well as tight ends.
Defensive leader Nnamdi Asomugha, who will play a hybrid linebacker/safety spot this season, said Ugenti has been a solid contributor who is ready to step up.
“Paul has played as hard as he can for three years, and he’s earned everyone’s respect,” Asomugha said. “It’s not surprising to anyone that he’s stepped up his game.”
But Ugenti has two classmates breathing down his neck. Calvin Hosey is the biggest of the candidates at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and has the speed to rush the passer. Hosey is a vocal presence on the practice field but must prove to be a consistent player to earn more playing time.
Marcus Daniels is more suited to an inside position, but with Klotsche returning as the leading tackler on the team, Daniels will likely have to play on the outside to see much time. Daniels is very athletic and has shown good hitting ability in practice, but he may be best suited for another year of backup duty while contributing on special teams. Yet Daniels has made an impression during the fall, showing good instincts in pass coverage that could make him valuable playing next to the hole-plugging Klotsche.
The wild card in the competition is sophomore Wendell Hunter. Hunter’s high-energy style lets him flow from sideline to sideline, and he is probably the best coverage linebacker on the team. He may have to wait his turn with five seniors on the depth chart, but he could crack the rotation with a good fall.
Nixon is the big-play guy of the group, which should keep him in the lineup on the weak side. While a bit undersized at 220 pounds, he has good instincts for the ball and has made 22 tackles for loss in the last two years while contributing on special teams, including a blocked field goal in last season’s Big Game.
Klotsche, secure in his middle spot, said each player can bring different things to the field.
“All of the seniors know what they’re doing out there, it’s just a matter of figuring out who’s best for each situation,” Klotsche said. “Some guys are better at covering, some are better at blitzing. We just need to make plays, it doesn’t matter who makes them.”