Lorenzo Alexander never left Berkeley, but he went from one of the best football teams in Northern California to one of the worst in the nation in less than a year. The short trip from St. Mary’s College High to Cal took Alexander from the CIF playoffs to a 1-10 season that couldn’t end soon enough for players, coaches and everyone involved with the Golden Bear program.
Alexander is back with the Bears this season, and he’s in a battle for playing time with three other defensive tackles. Senior Daniel Nwangwu is almost assured of a starting spot thanks to seniority and some hard work this summer, so Alexander is likely fighting junior Josh Beckham and sophomore Tom Sverchek for the other tackle spot.
Alexander, the youngest of the four, is being patient for now, playing his hardest in practice with the second team after losing 15 pounds this summer. But the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder is confident he’ll get his time to shine.
“This is just a starting point for me,” said Alexander, who recorded 24 tackles and a sack last season while playing in all 11 games, including five starts. “Eventually I’ll be on the first team. I feel like we’re all equally as good, so it’s about who’s playing the best right now.”
The prize of Cal’s 2001 recruiting class, Alexander’s strengths out of high school were his quickness and agility. The last year’s coaching staff encouraged him to bulk up in order to clog running lanes, but new defensive line coach Ken Delgado prefers smaller, more agile tackles who can make plays rather than stand still, so Alexander worked all summer to get back down to his high-school playing weight.
“A lot of coaches get caught up in how big a guy is. But I’m not a coach who’s seduced by size,” Delgado said. “I don’t have positions for guys who can only cover two gaps. You have to be able to strike blockers, make plays and rush the passer.”
That description fits Alexander well. He spent most of his high school career rushing the passer from all over the defensive line, and he is remarkably nimble for such a big man. Alexander played a key role on St. Mary’s state champion basketball team during his senior year, and he also possesses the hand-fighting skills necessary to succeed in the trenches.
The tough two-practices-per-day fall schedule hasn’t worn down Alexander this season, thanks to the fact that he spent his summer working out twice a day, once at Cal and once with a personal trainer in Alameda. That hard work helped prepare him for the faster practices of the new coaching staff, with each practice broken down into 24 five-minute periods.
“The new practice schedule is a big difference. Last year there was a lot of dragging around the field, and now it’s always up-tempo. We get a lot more done in less time,” Alexander said. “The team is a lot more enthused to work.”
The increased stamina will benefit whoever wins starting jobs on the defensive line, as Delgado likes to play his starters as much as possible. Not only does that keep his best players on the field, he said, but it makes the competition for starting jobs that much more intense.
“We’re not solid on our starters for the first game yet, but we’re definitely going to name two main starters (at defensive tackle),” Delgado said. “We have to place a high value on starting jobs. The last thing we want is an easy rotation, where everyone knows they’re going to play. Everyone can’t be happy. They have to want to fight for playing time.”
While Delgado is a commanding presence, he also keeps things loose in practice with games and competitions among his charges. After playing for taskmasters like St. Mary’s line coach Steve Moore and Cal’s Bill Dutton, Alexander said Delgado’s coaching style is a nice change of pace.
“I love (Delgado),” he said. “He’s just as intense as the other coaches, but he also leaves time for fun and games. He keeps things more loose, and that makes practice more fun.”
Notes: Receiver Chad Heydorff’s Cal career is officially over, as the senior will not play this season due to a leg injury. It’s the same injury that has nagged at Heydorff for the past three seasons after he transferred to Cal from Glendale CC... Offensive linemen Scott Tercero and Andrew Cameron both practiced for the first time this fall on Thursday. Both are recovering from shoulder injuries... Receiver LaShaun Ward returned to practice Thursday morning, but re-aggravated his hamstring strain and will be re-evaluated... Tight end Terrence Dotsy sprained his knee and will be out 3-6 weeks... Receiver Michael Sparks left the team, saying he no longer enjoyed the game... Backup center Nolan Bluntzer suffered a shoulder injury on Tuesday and x-rays taken Wednesday showed no damage. Bluntzer was scheduled to have an MRI done on the shoulder on Thursday evening.