By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER
BERKELEY — Cal's football season has turned into a giant migraine, although Ryan O'Callaghan and Aaron Merz might describe it differently. And you couldn't blame them if they did. The two massive offensive linemen have received concussions this fall that cost them playing time. "If your head jerks real hard, your brain bounces," said O'Callaghan, a 6-7, 345-pound senior tackle. Sounds worse than a migraine. O'Callaghan blocked an Oregon State defender and was kicked in the head. He missed only one game, Washington State, because of a bye week, before returning against Oregon. "Every game, you'll have a couple of times when you get up seeing double," said Merz, a 6-4, 335-pound senior guard. Merz has had four concussions, the first time as a kid when he fell off a tire swing. The other three have been at Cal, including the last one, at Washington in September, which sidelined him for three games. "You don't mess with your head or your spine," he said. "They haven't invented surgeries for that yet." Cal coach Jeff Tedford is trying to invent a way to stop his team's collapse. The Bears (6-4, 3-4 Pac-10) have lost four of their last five games heading into Saturday's Big Game at Stanford (5-4, 4-3). Tedford may settle on a quarterback change — Steve Levy in, Joe Ayoob out — but there is no preventive medicine for a concussion. "You can't do anything until you have symptoms," said Merz. Concussions have had a damaging effect on Cal's offensive line, a dominating unit at the start of the season. Junior tackle Andrew Cameron also sustained a concussion at Washington and missed two games. He returned against Arizona, then suffered a season-ending knee injury. "Everything's in a fog," O'Callaghan said. "No matter how much you want to play with a concussion, you can't. Your eyes water. You get emotional. I got a medical exemption from my professors, and I just turned in a midterm."
Two weeks late, but with permission.
"I missed two weeks of classes," Merz said. "Your attention span is pretty bad. Trying to focus, you get a headache. I'd write things down in class, like a key phrase, then when I get a handout of the lecture, I couldn't connect the two. The best thing you can do is wait it out."
Concussions vary in their magnitude.
"You don't know how severe they are," O'Callaghan said. "They could be day to day — (safety) Harrison (Smith) was out two days. Against Oregon, (tight end) Craig (Stevens) was seeing double. I had to push him to the sideline." Stevens was able to start against USC on Saturday, when the Bears were routed 35-10. Defensive end Tosh Lupoi, a sixth-year senior, rebroke his foot against the Trojans, ending his Cal career. Even with insulated helmets, concussions still occur. "There's not much you can do to prevent it," O'Callaghan said. "Two days after I got mine, it was overwhelming." Thus he wore shades to watch Cal practice; keeping the sun out of his eyes sped up his recovery. "I had no memory loss," he said. "I remember when it happened." O'Callaghan and Merz aren't fearful of a recurrence. If you play scared, you'll get hurt," said Merz.