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Well-Known for His Heroic Actions Off the Field, Mike Tepper Continues to Improve in the Trenches
BY Steven Dunst
While tailback Justin Forsett focused this offseason on bulking up to handle the inside running required of a marquee back, right tackle Mike Tepper knew he needed to get quicker. Tepper dropped over 25 pounds to a still-imposing 308 in order to better handle fast defensive ends. The work has paid dividends. Cal has rushed for an average of 198.6 yards with Tepper anchoring the right side of the line and quarterback Nate Longshore has only been sacked four times on the season. But Tepper and the entire offensive line will face perhaps their most difficult defensive front on the season Saturday against Oregon State. The Beavers lead the nation in rush defense, allowing an average of 43.4 yards per game, and have racked up a conference-best 26 sacks. “It’s not like they’re going to slant or going to do any kind of crazy stuff too much,” Tepper said of the OSU defense. “(They just say) ‘We’re going to line up against you and kick your butts.’ It’s fun backyard football and I love it.”
The focus during the bye week has been on the Bears’ recuperation and lofty ranking, but the play of Cal’s offensive line will be instrumental to the Bears maintaining their undefeated record and defeating the Beavers at Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1997. “As a unit, the offensive line has a lot of things to work on,” Tepper said. “Yeah, we’re No. 2, but imagine if we played to our potential—we’d be unstoppable.” Tepper has been pretty close thus far. He has had the size to start on the offensive line since stepping onto the Berkeley campus in 2004, but a combination of injuries and the need to bide his time behind entrenched starters delayed Tepper’s coming-out party. Until this season, he was known more as a hero than a football player. In a story now well-known, Tepper protected women’s volleyball player Camille Lefall from a group of convicted felons in a car in June of 2005. They ran over his leg twice in the process, breaking his right fibula. After rehabbing for close to a year and receiving a lot of playing time last year due to injuries, Tepper has finally seized the full-time starting role. And he has not become complacent. Tepper still gripes about his fundamentals and focuses on doing the little things necessary to ensure that Longshore has enough time in the pocket to connect with a trio of marquee receivers.
“I’m not worried about the rankings, I’m worried about my pass set,” Tepper said. “I’m worried about my hands on somebody’s chest. I’m worried about all that other stuff.”
Tepper said the rigorous season has already started to wear him down at times. After calling himself “unstoppable” for the first few days of camp, he has struggled to maintain top form because of the bumps and bruises that come with fighting in the trenches. Now, coming off a bye, Tepper said he is fully healthy and ready to continue his dominance.
But just like when he protected Lefall, Tepper is not looking for hero status or accolades, as long as he is successful in helping to establish the running game Saturday against OSU’s stiff defense. Saturday will just be another day at work for the mammoth tackle. “I got the feeling for awhile that I was working, but I wasn’t working as hard as I could be,” Tepper said. “I’m slowly getting back into regaining everything. I still have so many things to work on.”