Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son

When the 2008 Cal spring football roster was released, one of the biggest surprises was the reappearance of offensive lineman Kevin Bemoll.

Bemoll had been dropped from the team after the 2006 season and the chances of him returning seemed remote. But after some soul-searching and a rededication to both the sport and his teammates, he's rejoined the team with a new outlook on life.

A three-star recruit from Mission Viejo, Bemoll was one of the more highly-touted offensive linemen to join the Bears in the Jeff Tedford era.   After originally committing to Ohio State in the summer of 2004, he decommitted in January of 2005 and ended up signing with Cal later that month.

"I felt real comfortable with the guys and fit in real well. They're like me in a lot of ways," said Bemoll in a January 2005 interview shortly after he committed. "Besides my comfort level with the coaches and team, I just really like the Bay Area and the school a lot and felt it was the best place for me. It doesn’t hurt that it’s pretty close to home (Mission Viejo), which is important to me, too."

During his senior year of high school, he was 6-5 and 305 pounds and figured to be one of the rare offensive line recruits who didn't have to worry about putting on massive amounts of weight during his first year of college. And with the success that the Bears have had under offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, Bemoll looked like he was in a terrific position to succeed.

But as much as it might be tempting to take a student-athlete and project where he might be in a year or two or four, each player is different and reacts differently to their circumstances.  The challenge for any coaching staff is to find out where that player is mentally and find ways to bring him into the program.  Sometimes, that's not as easy as it looks.

Bemoll had been courted by Ohio State for much of the fall of 2004 and became well-acquainted with a manic football culture that's unique to a handful of places across the country.

"I committed to Ohio State and I decommitted because I wanted to go somewhere closer to home. USC and UCLA were too close, so I chose to go to Cal. I'd heard it was a good university and the football team was doing well," said Bemoll, who upon arriving on campus found something that varied from what he'd anticipated. "It was different. It wasn't the college experience that I thought it'd be, I thought I'd come in, it'd be a big party and everything would be about sports."

In many ways, he wasn't dissimilar to someone who's gone away to college and has had difficulty with the initial adjustment.  But Bemoll never could shake his initial dissatisfaction.  After redshirting his first year and not playing the following year in 2006, the coaching staff decided to release him from the team.

Bemoll is upfront about discussing this, there's no diplomatic language about it being a mutual agreement, nothing about agreeing to disagree, and there were no misunderstandings that needed to be clarified.

"The coaches made the decision and I was glad they did," said Bemoll, whose weight had ballooned up to 348 just before he was let go.   "My head wasn't in it, I was negative and I didn't appreciate how special everything was. Nothing was good enough for me, my body was tired, and this was just another team. Coach Tedford called me in and said they were going to release me. He was very calm with me and said they were going to release me for the season, and if I showed that I wanted to be part of the program and stay in shape, and worked on rebuilding relationships, I'd have a chance to come back."

Now in most cases, this is where the story would end.  A disgruntled athlete finds himself in a situation that's untenable, decides that a change of scenery is in order, transfers schools, and goes on to lead his life without looking back.

But for Bemoll, transferring was something he never seriously considered. While he may have mentally checked out of football at the time, he maintained his academic commitments.

"I never had any issues with school, and I was going to get an education," said Bemoll, a social welfare major.  "I got over a 3.0 and I'd always kept my grades up. Transferring wasn't an issue, the only question was whether I was going to play football or not."

While coaches are generally thought of in terms of wins and losses and game planning and personnel decisions, there's another broader role that they play that's seldom seen. From the beginning of the recruiting process all the way through the time they finish playing, coaches and players develop a bond of trust, which at times looking a player in the eye and telling him something that may be hard to hear.

Although Bemoll sensed that he wanted to return to football, Tedford wanted him to give it more thought.

"I talked with Coach Tedford and he wanted to me to make sure that I took my time and didn't just jump back in," said Bemoll. "That it was OK not to be a football player and to have a career in something other than sports. I took his advice and I took a month off and hung out at the beach and hung out with friends and after awhile I realized that some of them weren't really going anywhere. Also, I was falling out of contact with people, and I thought about the team and how I really wanted to be a part of it."

Already by this point, Bemoll realized taking time to think things over and offer up a few apologies wasn't going to be enough.  He not only needed to tell people that he wanted to rejoin the team, he needed to show people by his actions, he was going to be a changed man.  As much as a person can have great coaches and great trainers, it ultimately comes down a person making choices and making a commitment.

"The time away was needed so that I'd have some time to mature and appreciate the program that we have here," said Bemoll. "After a month away, I decided that I wanted to come back so I worked out over at Concord and tried to get my weight down and work on my foot speed."

During his year away, his contact with the coaches was minimal.  

A distant observer might find it puzzling that Bemoll couldn't bring himself to follow the team too closely.   Part of that comes from the pain of trying to watch a team that he knows he could have been on, and part of that came from knowing that he still had a lot of work to do before he could become part of the team. Everybody has different ways of working out conflicting emotions, but it would be erroneous to guess that Bemoll was trying to slight his teammates by keeping a distance.  

"I didn't watch any games," said Bemoll. "I talked to a couple of guys but it would have been hard to stomach it to sit there and watch them play. My focus was on working on my athletic ability, doing my own thing and make sure that my head was clean coming back to this."

Unlike other programs that run players in and out on conveyor belts, Cal kept its door open for Bemoll to return and this January, he rejoined the team.

"I came back after the bowl game and it's been great," said Bemoll, who currently weighs 327 and is hoping to get down to the 310-315 range by the time the season starts. "I've had fun building relationships with the guys, it was something that I didn't appreciate as much when I was here before. Since I've gotten here, I've gotten along with everyone. The only time I was negative around teammates was with the offensive line, and as soon as I got back, we had some long conversations. They're a great group of guys."

During the spring, he's gotten a few snaps with the first unit but has been primarily working with the second unit, playing on the left side of the line, and on Saturday's practice he helped spring running back Peter Geurts for a couple of long games.

In some ways, Bemoll is a walking Sunday school story.   You can find a little bit of Saul, some Amazing Grace, a little bit of Lazarus, and a lot of the prodigal son with what's happened to him during the past few years.  And throughout any conversation about him regarding his place on the team, he'll talk about how glad he is for the chance to be back, how much he's looking forward to working, and how he appreciates the people around him.

"I know I can't be the guy, but that's good," said Bemoll, who in his spare time hangs out with his girlfriend, Cal softball pitcher Brittany LaRosa. "I've got to go in and take my reps. If I got thrown in with the first unit that wouldn't be fair to Mark (Boskovich) who's been here.  There's some rust and I'm shaking it off, and I'm looking forward to competing with everyone else for playing time all the way through fall camp. I'm happy to just be part of the team. Now that I'm back playing I want to give it all that I have and help out any way that I can."

Notes...Nate Longshore missed practice due to a bruised pectoral muscle. Consequently, Kevin Riley played with the first unit, Brock Mansion played with the second unit, and Cory Smits played with the third unit...Chris Guarnero, who had primarily been playing with the Unit B offense as a center saw some time with the Unit A offense as a right guard...D.J. Holt and Zack Follett were held out of Monday's practice due to concussions. Several players were wearing red jerseys today due to a various injuries. Because it's just the second week of spring practice, the coaching staff is playing it safe...With the large number of players held out to injury, the various units were mixed considerably.  The usual caveats remain: since Monday's were captured towards the tail-end of practice, it's possible that players appeared earlier and were held out later; because of the large number of substitutions within each unit, this list is not exhaustive, and finally these were the units that players were broken up into during 11-on-11s and are not necessarily indicative of the current depth chart. Also, units are fluid from practice to practice, so the receivers for Unit B in one practice could vary a lotfrom the Unit B receivers in the following practice.

Offensive Unit A:  Michael Calvin, Jeremy Ross, LaReylle Cunningham, Alex Stroud, Cameron Morrah, Chet Teofilo, Kevin Bemoll, Alex Mack, Richard Fisher, Mike Tepper, Chris Guarnero, Kevin Riley, Tracy Slocum, Peter Geurts, Will Taufoou

Offensive Unit B:  Nyan Boateng, Alex Stroud, LaReylle Cunningham, Michael Calvin, Jeremy Ross, Ian Albrecht, Skyler Curran, Matt Laird, Richard Fisher, Mark Boskovich, Chris Guarnero, Justin Cheadle, Mitchell Schwartz, Brock Mansion, Covaughn Deboskie, Peter Geurts, Brian Holley

Offensive Unit C:  Alex Stroud, Ian Albrecht, Savaii Eselu, Justin Prueitt, Matt Laird, Matt Summers-Gavin, T.J. Emery, Todd Huber, Cory Smits, Covaughn Deboskie, John Tyndall, Peter Geurts, R.J. Garrett

Defensive Unit A:  Mika Kane, Tyson Alualu, Rulon Davis, Cameron Jordan, Michael Costanzo, Cody Jones, Eddie Young, Charles Johnson, Shea McIntyre, Tony Felder, Worrell Williams, Darian Hagan, Brett Johnson, Marcus Ezeff, Chris Conte, Syd'Quan Thompson, Gary Doxy

Defensive Unit B:  Solomona Aigamaua, Cody Jones, Michael Costanzo, Cameron Jordan, Tony Felder, Worrell Williams, Devin Bishop, Shea McIntyre, Syd'Quan Thompson, Gary Doxy, Jesse Brooks, Charles Amadi, Brett Johnson

Defensive Unit C:  Kendrick Payne, Ernest Owusu, Scott Smith, Keith Browner, Justin Gates, Jonathan Karacazoff, Charles Johnson, Shea McIntyre, Tony Felder, Devin Bishop, Worrell Williams, Charles Amadi, Brett Johnson, D.J. Campbell, Jesse Brooks, Chris Conte, Darian Hagan


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