Thursday, April 20, 2006

Oakland Tribune: Cal player stands up as a good Samaritan

Tepper shuns hero tag, though football lineman suffered broken leg coming to woman's defense

By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER

BERKELEYSometimes the biggest heroes are those who don't see themselves as heroes.  Mike Tepper is a hero, although he is blinded by such a glaring light. And so he tries, unsuccessfully, to hide his giant frame in its shadow.   "I'm just Mike Tepper; I'm not some super hero," said Tepper, a Cal football lineman. "I try to stay humble. What I did was something I would have done for any of my friends, any of my family."  Even Camille Leffall, the Cal volleyball player  whom Tepper defended heroically 10 months ago, doesn't place a halo over his head. "It's not like that at all," she said. "He's a great friend. He stood up for me. There's nothing heroic about it."

But who can truly define heroism? One of Webster's definitions of "heroic" is "daring and risky, but used as a last resort." That certainly would describe Tepper's actions on the night of June 26, 2005.  Leffall was crossing Telegraph Avenue when a car pulled up filled with young men. They propositioned her. She wasn't interested. Then as she tried to pass in front of the car, the car sped up and blocked her. Tepper was walking along behind. He caught up with Leffall and told those in the car that she wasn't interested. Then the two walked behind the car to avoid further hassling.  The driver put the car in reverse. Tepper pushed Leffall out of the way, but the car hit him and, as he fell, ran over his right leg. Then the driver shifted into drive and ran over the leg again.

A police officer witnessed the incident. He called an ambulance and applied a tourniquet to Tepper's leg, which was bleeding severely. He had a broken fibula, a dislocated tibia and ligament damage. At Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, his broken leg received a plate and two screws.   Tepper's football season was over. The driver of the car, who was on parole, was returned to prison. Leffall now is pursuing a broadcasting career. The 6-foot-6, 334-pound Tepper not only has rehabilitated himself, but also he's, remarkably, starting at offensive left tackle in spring practice.   "It's coming along," he said of his progress. "I wouldn't say it's coming along fast. I need some work, but it's going to be there."   Tepper's idleness — he hasn't played in two years, a redshirt freshman in'04 — has reduced his speed. Though he feels he's 95 to 100 percent recovered, he still  needs work on technique and explosion.

"I didn't think I'd be coming back in this position," he said of starting. "It's really exciting. The coaches believe I've earned my spot." "He's gifted, a big athletic guy," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He's very powerful, but he has quick feet, and he can run. The injury isn't going to be his hindrance; it's getting used to the speed of the game."

"The biggest thing with Mike is a lot of rust," offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said. "He's making the effort, and he's such a good athlete, that it's going to come. Greatness is not a destination, it's a journey." Tepper is on some kind of journey given the events of last June 26. But the man he's replacing at left tackle believes he will get there. "He's big and physical with tons and tons of potential," said Andrew Cameron, who quit football because of multiple injuries with a year of eligibility left. "What I remember about him is that he was progressing upward. It's a shame he was hurt last year because he would have seen some playing time. He'll do a good job for the Bears."   Perhaps, Tepper's role as a hero is taken too lightly, by both Leffall and himself. With the rash of drive-by shootings and gang violence occurring in our society, Tepper instantly came to Leffall's rescue without thinking that there might be guns in that car, and quick-trigger mind-sets besides.  Therefore, wasn't Tepper daring and risky in protecting Leffall as a last resort? Truly heroic qualities, though Tepper views himself in less mythic proportions.

"I never have a dull moment in my life," he said. "I'm one of the most curious guys in the world. I try to be enthusiastic. I'm a nice guy. I respect everybody." Tepper's father is more than willing to drape the mantle of hero over his son's huge shoulders.   "Personally, I think Mike saved a life that night," said Gus Tepper. "Had he not been there, who knows what those scumbags would have done to that girl. I think he deserves a medal. I am proud of his behavior. He is a great kid and an outstanding citizen. I constantly remind him of that."


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