Unlikely journey

Unlikely journey

As another spring practice ends and the football team jogs off the field, Cal's media relations staff beckons players over to meet with the media. For some, like Worrell Williams or Mike Tepper who've been interviewed often over the years, it's part of the drill. As Peter Geurts is called over the expression that crosses his face can best be described as a combination of surprise and horror.

With injuries to Jahvid Best, Covaughn Deboskie, and Shane Vereen, along with the transfer of James Montgomery, the redshirt freshman from San Ramon was asked to switch over from fullback to tailback this spring and has run well while splitting responsibilities with Tracy Slocum. His ability to run through holes, his durability, and the occasional big gain has certainly caught the attention of head coach Jeff Tedford, who's lauded Geurts repeatedly in post-practice comments.

As Geurts comes over, he apologizes in advance because he hasn't done an interview for a long time.

You see, 16 months ago, Peter Geurts thought he was done with football. 

It wasn't a question of not wanting to play. As a junior at Monte Vista, Geurts was one of the top players on a star-studded team that went 11-1 in 2005 for a team that finished the season ranked 19th in the state by Calpreps, gaining 1,531 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns.  While he put up impressive numbers, he was also aware that he wasn't the biggest guy or the fastest guy around, but maybe a good senior year might help boost his visibility.

At the same time, a man's got to know his limits and as Geurts began to map out his future, college football didn't seem to be part of it.

And when he suffered a season-ending foot injury prior to the 2006 season, he figured he'd put on a uniform for the last time.

"I never thought I was capable of playing D-I ball. In my senior season, I got hurt and thought that was it," said the 6-foot, 210-pound Geurts, who credits his family and his coaches for keeping his spirits up during his injury. "I thought it was the end of football for me, and I was fine with it. I didn't have any mixed feelings.  I was looking at Cal, Arizona, and Colorado but for school."

Then in December his high school coach got a call from his teammate's dad.

His teammate being Taylor Tedford.

As much as one might like to think of Geurts as one of a new generation of Cal football players; someone who's only known Cal as a successful program and lived just a short drive from Memorial Stadium, he really didn't start following college football until his freshman year of high school.  And while he knew Taylor Tedford from the football team, it took him quite a bit of time before he drew the connection between Taylor and Taylor's father. 

While that may seem astounding to the thousands of people who don't know anything about what will happen with their lives this fall other than how they'll spend their Saturdays, face it, in high school, how many of you really knew what your friends' parents did for a living?

With Jeff Tedford having good reason to keep an especially close tab on Monte Vista, he was certainly aware of what kind of player Peter Geurts was.

"Coach Tedford called and asked me if I wanted to walk on," said Geurts, who even while recovering from his injury, never lost his love for football, instantly replied yes. "He said he wanted me to play fullback."

As a walk-on to a major college program, it would be easy for a player to become intimidated by his surroundings, but Geurts found the team atmosphere to be very welcoming.

"It's been great, coming on as a walk-on," said Geurts, who in his spare time reads and plays basketball. "I wasn't sure if I'd be treated differently as a walk-on, but I get the same help from the training staff, I get the same equipment, and I get treated the same as everybody else."

Geurts spent the 2007 season working with the scout team, and figured to compete with Will Ta'ufo'ou, Brian Holley, and R.J. Garrett for time at fullback this spring.  With the injuries to the other tailbacks, running backs coach Ron Gould asked Geurts if he would be interested in playing tailback, during the spring. He's done well enough that the coaching staff has been content to keep him there through the end of spring, giving him lots of reps, primarily against the second and third units.

"It's been a lot of fun. I didn't play during my senior season, it's been two years since I've played tailback." said Geurts who's now 100% recovered from fracturing the lisfranc joint - which is between the first and second metatarsal. "I've been working a lot of my ballhandling, making cuts, and reading the holes."

While every runner who's adapting to the rigors of college football have to get used to the speed of the game, Geurts has had one other big adjustment to make.

"The linemen are a lot bigger. I can't peek over them like I did in high school," said Geurts, who's joined on the 2008 team by fellow Monte Vista grads Matt Russi and Michael Costanzo.  "It's been great though, this is the best o-line that I've run with. They open these huge holes so it's really easy to get through."

Geurts is in position to eventually be the latest in a long of walk-ons have gone on to become successful fullbacks at Cal, following in the footsteps of Chris Manderino, Byron Storer, and Will Ta'ufo'ou. 

Although the early plan was that Geurts' move to tailback was going to be temporary, his repeated strong showings may cause that to be reconsidered.

“He’s a very tough kid,” Tedford told a press gathering after practice earlier this week. “I’m thankful he’s here now. He may be a tailback now.”

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