When Montario Hardesty caught the pass from Erik Ainge, Ezeff was seven yards off of
him and charging. By the time the big running back could turn and head upfield, he was
wrapped by Cal's sophomore safety and dropped for a three-yard loss. The Volunteers
were forced to punt, and the Bear offense doused the dying embers of Tennessee's hope with
a long drive that essentially secured the victory.
For the 6-0, 194 pound Ezeff, the game was easily his finest as a Golden Bear. After
seeing spot duty last year, he had six tackles on Saturday, while seeing lots of playing
time in Cal's five defensive backs set.
After patiently waiting for his opportunity, Ezeff was happy to be able to contribute.
"It meant a lot," said Ezeff. "This year I wanted to step up my
intensity and become a leader in the secondary. This is my third year here so I've got
higher expectations for myself and also for the team."
Although every football team will have its share of stars and instant impact players,
you'll find its soul within the players who arrive as touted high school players but spend
two, three, and sometimes four years of work, pushing themselves to build their bodies,
learn the game, persevere through pain, set examples for younger players and develop a
trust with their teammates that extend on and off the field.
Ezeff, a three-star recruit in the Class of 2005, was one of the top high school
players in the Bay Area coming out of Santa Rosa's Montgomery High School. He helped lead
the team to a 13-0 record, the CIF North Coast Section 3A Championship, and was named to
the San Francisco Chronicle all-metro first team as defensive back and a wide receiver.
For some players that were able to dominate in high school on sheer talent alone,
coming to play college football where everyone is physically gifted and the competition
for playing time is intense can catch them by surprise. While everybody believes
that they're capable of playing at a high level, the process of fulfilling those
expectations doesn't comes easily.
Ezeff acknowledges that the transition was necssary, if not altogether smooth.
"I've matured a lot," said Ezeff, who redshirted during the 2005
season. "Coming out of a high school I was used to getting a lot of attention
around my area. But coming here, everyone's skill level is high and I've learned to work
hard at everything from the weight room to the classroom to the practice field. During my
three years here, I've grown a lot."
Currently listed on the two-deep as the second string rover behind Bernard Hicks,
Ezeff, who saw plenty of time with the first unit on Saturday, credits defensive
coordinator Bob Gregory for his guidance.
"Coach Gregory has helped me work through a lot of things," said Ezeff, who's
an African-American studies major. "He's like a dad. It's great to have a coach
that you can go to and trust, who's easy to talk to and understands what his players
Ezeff also credits Gregory and the defensive coaching staff for implementing a game
plan that was intent on making Tennessee work for their yardage.
"They're a great team," said Ezeff, whose family routinely comes down from
Santa Rosa to cheer him on. "They were ranked 15th in the country and we knew they'd
make some plays. We really had to understand our assignments and keep the number of big
plays down. We had to not allow big plays, not allow big throws and not miss our tackles.
Coach Gregory disguised blitzes and it confused their offense. They were checking
down, but a lot of times, they were running right into our zones."
Although the Bears defense did hold the high-powered Volunteer offense under 400 yards
and did have several big plays last Saturday, there's still a lot of room for improvement.
"We need to do a lot more work," said Ezeff. "Every team that wants to
play for a championship tries to get better as the season goes on. We've put the
Tennessee game behind us and we're not looking past Colorado State. We're going into to it
knowing that it's going to be a battle."
Having played in 12 games last season, he wasn't awestruck playing in front of a large
crowd, but was happy with the edge it provided.
"The crowd's a big help to our success and helps us play to our capability,"
said Ezeff. "We were feeding off their energy."
While Memorial Stadium's boisterious fans certainly helped, the seeds for the decisive
fourth quarter where the Bears dominated time of possession (10:44 to 4:16) and yardage
(171 to 2), were planted during the spring and summer.
"We kept hearing about how strong Tennessee was," said Ezeff. "But our
strength and conditioning coach (John Krasinski) and coach Tedford pushed us to becoming
the most well-conditioned team we can be. We've worked hard and we're a well-conditioned
as any team out there."
So what goes through a player's mind when he makes a big third-down, fourth-quarter
stop in front of not just a sell-out crowd, but a national television audience, as well?
"I thought about what coach Tedford told us the night before the game," said
Ezeff, who after his hit, was greeted by a couple of teammates, but carried himself as if
this was something he expected to do. "All that we'd heard about the SEC being
more powerful and how they thought they'd overpower us. We fed off of that and what
he said made us want to go out there and show what this team is about. I thought
about everything we went through all summer, from waking up at 6:30 a.m. and going through
all that training. And also about how the defense wanted to make big plays, and get the
Pac-10 to get some recognition."
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