JUNIOR DAY: Lealao Has Eyes Opened

JUNIOR DAY: Lealao Has Eyes Opened

Cal Elite Junior Day opens Lealao's eyes to the academic reputation of the Berkeley campus, but the Bears still have some work to do in order to supplant a longtime rival as the four-star's favorite.

One of the more high-profile attendees at California's Elite Junior Day is still a Stanford lean, but only just.

While being recruited under the previous regime, Sacramento (Calif.) Capital Christian defensive lineman Nifae Lealao -- an early 2014 four-star, and the No. 6 defensive end in the nation – Lealao was not exposed to the academic bona fides of Cal nearly as much as he was the Bears' cross-Bay rivals, but on Saturday, Lealao said, he had his eyes opened.

"From start to finish, everything was fun, seeing the whole campus, the facilities, just everything around it, getting to know the other recruits and coaches, it was great," Lealao said. "It was just a great experience. I had only ever really seen Cal on the football side, but today, I found out that it was more than that. It just really opened my eyes to what Cal really is. I knew Cal was a top academic school in the Pac-12 and in the nation, as Stanford was, but it really just opened my eyes and my mom and I had a really fun day today."

Lealao had always known that the two rival schools were both academic stalwarts, but Saturday, the fact that Berkeley is the top public school in the world all but smacked him in the face.

"I still like Stanford a lot, but academic-wise, I got to see how special Cal is, compared with other schools in the nation, and it actually gives me a more comfortable feeling of how Cal is, now that I've started to look into it," Lealao said. "I talked with Keiko [Price], the academic advisor, and I talked with coach Barry Sacks and coach [Sonny] Dykes and the defensive coordinator coach [Buy], and I was meeting with them and all the coaches, and it was just a great experience. They made some great points about being affiliated with Cal."

Lealao had just been getting used to the old staff when former head coach Jeff Tedford was shown the door in November, but now that he's begun bonding with the new bunch, he's all smiles.

"Coach Sacks is really just a magnificent guy," Lealao said. "He was with me from as soon as we got there to when we left, and coach Sacks is really great to talk to. We talked about anything and everything. He's one of those guys you just love to hang out with, and it was a fun time."

Sacks is quite enamored with Lealao, and for good reason. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end already has offers from Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Mississippi, Oregon State, the Cardinal, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, after recording 87 tackles, six sacks, four blocked punts, three blocked field goals, two pass deflections, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble as a sophomore, and then following that up with a 71-tackle, 20.0-TFL, 3.5-sack, one-pick, two-fumble recovery, two-forced fumble, one-blocked punt and three-blocked field goal junior campaign.

"Coach Sacks just really wants me there," Lealao laughed. "Just having me at Cal is exciting for him. They said they've seen my video and they've seen what I can do, and they're going to do whatever they can to get me there, from their standpoint."

While Lealao is clearly at the top of the Bears' board on the defensive line, Cal is still a close second to Stanford on Lealao's side of the ledger, but after Saturday, the Bears did creep a bit closer.

"Cal and UCLA have always been my second choices, right behind Stanford," Lealao said. "Cal has always been up there, and this really showed me more academically about Cal than I had a chance to see before. Right now, Cal's near the top, at No. 2."

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