As Cal practiced with shells for the first time on Monday, nowhere was the contact between helmets and pads more palpable than in pass protections drills. In one of the day's most memorable sights, freshman tailback Trajuan Briggs withstood a charging David Wilkerson and drove the 6-foot-3 linebacker right into the turf. And then there was 5-foot-7 Isi Sofele - giving up six inches and 30 pounds against Steve Fanua, but trying his best not to give up any ground. The defender ended up getting the better of the match-up, yet Sofele remained upbeat.
"As long as I stopped him, give the quarterback a couple seconds, it's good," Sofele said. Taking punishment from pass-rushers is just another thing for him to weather while trying to leave his mark on the team - this time, at his natural position of running back. With starter Shane Vereen sitting out camp once again, Sofele is one of the players getting more chances to audition for a backup role.
"I have to open up that playbook, focus, keep studying," Sofele said of his responsibilities. "Block, run, catch, do everything." The last part may as well be Sofele's motto, considering his year-long stint with the Bears. After starting out last fall camp as a receiver, the Salt Lake City native worked his way onto the kick coverage unit during the season, while touching the ball on a few sweeps and reverses. In addition to making his case in the backfield this year, Sofele - who clocked a 4.40 40 time in high school - is battling the team's speedsters for a chance to return kicks or punts. It's competition he seems to relish, considering how long he's been fighting to prove himself. "It took my my whole life," Sofele said. "Everybody looked at me, ever since I was young like 'oh, that kid can't play, he's too small"
Indeed, those seeing Sofele for the first time on Monday would have stared incredulously at the things he confidently talked about - running between the tackles, musing about the "next level" (read: the pros), even likening himself to Barry Sanders. "My specialty is to make guys miss," he said. Miss tackles? Certainly. Miss his determination and effort? Unlikely.