Cal defensive end Lupoi is eager to start his sixth season
By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER
BERKELEY — Cal's football practice had ended, but the sixth-year man wasn't done. Tosh Lupoi continued to refine this better-than-Christmas gift that had been given him, while imparting leadership at the same time.
And so Lupoi and Nu'u Tafisi were the last Bears on the field, going through an intricate set of falling down and rolling over maneuvers followed by their getting up and popping the blocking sled repeatedly.
Lupoi and Tafisi will be Cal's starting defensive ends Saturday against Sacramento State, and the sixth-year man was showing the newcomer the dedication and desire that's required to play in the Pac-10.
Of course, this exercise feels new to Lupoi, too, because he hasn't played for Cal in a year. He sat out 2004, which would have been his senior season with a broken foot. He didn't feel he would get another chance to suit up for the Golden Bears.
"When I lost my senior year, it was the hardest thing I've ever gone through," he said. "A piece of me was ripped away. Getting that year back, that missing piece has been replaced."
Lupoi, the 6-4, 260-pound De La Salle High graduate, redshirted at Cal in 2000 and was a backup the next two years before starting in 2003. Then after much agonizing, the NCAA awarded him a sixth year of eligibility.
"I'm so blessed to have this opportunity to play again," he said. "Almost every day, every play, everything we're doing, I'm absolutely loving it. I'm so thankful to be out here. I was told it would be nearly impossible to get this year back."
Lupoi's former Cal teammate, Yauger Williams, received a sixth year, as did former basketball player Al Grigsby.
"I definitely plan to make this my best year," Lupoi said. "I feel great. I'm mentally better than I've ever been. I'm ready to get after it."
Surprise gifts are welcomed any time of the year, and Cal coach Jeff Tedford has seen what this gift has meant to Lupoi.
"His experience, intensity, and his passion for the game," Tedford said, "when you
have it flash before you that you might not play again, and then you do play, he has a renewed passion."
Defensive line coach Ken Delgado automatically reinstalled Lupoi as a starter.
"I thought it would be a farce to set it up where he would start at the bottom and earn his way," Delgado said. "I didn't want to cloud the message. So I told the group that he is our leader.
"Why is he our leader? To keep us grounded, because he is our link to the past. All these freshmen only know 10-2. Tosh remembers the 7-5 and 8-6 that got us here."
Lupoi also remembers 3-8 and 1-10 under Tom Holmoe.
"Tosh is a proven player, a complete player," Delgado said. "He is called a run-stopper, which I don't like because it is one-dimensional. He is a hard worker, he's coachable, and he takes his coaching home with him at night. He is trying to hone his skills."
Lupoi had a sack in his last game for Cal, the 2003 Insight Bowl. But Tedford is looking for an outside pass rush to make up for the loss of All-American Ryan Riddle. Sophomore Phillip Mbakogu from Hayward has that look.
"We'll see," Lupoi said of the rush question. "We'll find out Saturday."
Lupoi is just happy to be back at Memorial Stadium — on Saturdays and every day in between.
"Hustling is a huge part of the game, and extra conditioning can never hurt," he said, breathing hard after his post-practice drill. "I'm just trying to get more conditioning than my opponent. The D-line, we don't ever accept mediocrity."
Spoken by their leader. Then the sixth-year man left the field, content that he had given his all for another day, while honoring the precious gift that fell his way.