BERKELEY -- Before the California football team trekked down to Underhill Field for the annual Fan Appreciation Day, the Bears spent some time with family members at a barbecue following their Saturday practice, marking the unofficial end of fall camp, which officially concluded on Monday.
"I thought it was a real good camp. Guys worked hard every day, I think we improved every day we were out here, which was the focus, and now the guys are ready to play," said head coach Jeff Tedford. "We'll focus in on the game plan, but the guys did well. They were ready when they came, physically, and they did a real nice job throughout camp. We got a lot of good work in."
One of the surprises of camp was redshirt sophomore linebacker Dan Camporeale, who has emerged as the starter at the outside spot opposite redshirt freshman David Wilkerson.
"I would expect him to start next week," Tedford said. "He's solid. He's been solid. He's done a real nice job."
The walk-on defender could wind up earning a scholarship this season if he keeps on performing, and will get the nod next week over senior Ryan Davis and freshman Cecil Whiteside, both of whom could see significant time.
"He's been here for a while. You look at those other guys, and they're fairly new," Tedford said. "It says a lot about him. It says a lot about who he is and what he's worked to become. He's really done a nice job with that. He's building up his body, he's gotten bigger, but he's a great competitor."
A local product, Camporeale now has to scramble to accommodate all of the family and friends who are expected to go out to Candlestick Park to see his first collegiate start.
"I know my parents and some of my family and friends, they live over by Sacramento, and they're going to try to come down," Camporeale said. "A lot of people didn't really exactly expect me to start all of the sudden. I'll probably get a few calls from people about it."
Tedford has taken to calling the Lafayette (Calif.) Acalanes grad 'Campo,' which, as it so happens, is shorthand for the Dons' rival high school, Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo, the alma mater of placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio. When asked about the dissonant moniker, Camporeale (pronounced camp-o-REL-ee) pawed at the ground with his feet and laughed reflexively.
"Yes, it is," he smiled, acknowledging the inherent conflict. "It is kind of interesting. It was funny, because my first year here, most of the coaches couldn't pronounce my last name anyway, so I ended up getting used to 'Camp,' 'Dan' and 'Campo' a little bit, but that's kind of come on towards the end. Giorgio, who went to Campo, is always making fun of me, 'You see on the depth chart? You're Campo.'"
Another local prep star -- Wilkerson -- has held his outside spot throughout spring and fall camp, and is expected to do some big things now that he's got a year of experience under his belt.
Now projected to start at outside linebacker, alongside defensive end Trevor Guyton (left), linebacker D.J. Holt (3), safety Sean Cattouse (11) and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, Camporeale (43) has made a big leap up the depth chart in his third year.
"I mean, I didn't really have any expectations going into it. I just kind of knew that if I went out there and just kept trying, kept working, like I've been doing ever since I've been here, I was going to get my opportunity and I finally got it," Camporeale said. "Going into fall camp, I was up there on the depth chart and it was a battle between a bunch of us. It was close towards the end, and I guess I came out on top a little bit."
Tedford noted that Camporeale has been assignment sound, and dependably stout against the run. When he began taking reps with the first and second units in spring, Camporeale had an inkling that he'd be able to snag the starting job.
"To be honest, I felt like, yeah, the opportunity was out there, and it was all just based on just me going out there and playing like I know I can. I know I can play at this level, and all it took was me going and proving it to the coaches, going out every day and proving it to my teammates that I deserve to be out there," Camporeale said. "When I came here, the opportunity was, you may not be on scholarship, but you have every opportunity to play that a scholarship player has. They always told us that the best players are going to get to play. The players that do their job, do what they have to do, they're going to play, whether you have a scholarship or not."
Throughout spring and fall camp, Camporeale -- who had no scholarship offers out of high school -- had to contend with newcomers Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain -- both four-star recruits. McCain had big showings early in fall camp, but the 6-foot-3, 238-pounder came on strong towards the end.
"We all had our ups and downs, because we all see it on film and everything, and it's a great competition between all of us," Camporeale said. "We all pushed each other. I saw that, and went, 'Aw, I've really got to step it up,' and then I do well, and [McCain] is like, 'Aw, I've got to step it up,' so it was just a battle between all of us. That's just how it ended up."
One of the big factors leading to Camporeale's improved play has been the physical strides made under new strength and conditioning coach Mike Blasquez.
"I came in as a freshman, and I was at pretty much the same weight, but I was a pretty pudgy guy," Camporeale admits. "Over the years, especially with coach Blasquez, he's really gotten us working and my strength's increased, my size has increased, it's been good."
What Blasquez did, basically, was shift the weight he was carrying in the middle to his upper body, basically, moving the gut up.
"That was the main thing to do," Camporeale laughed.
Blasquez's influence has been felt not just by Camporeale, but by all of the players in camp this year.
"You see great hustle, a lot of quickness," Tedford said. "One of the things is that I thought we were much quicker. With all the times that they had running back and forth and things like that, they were much quicker, in their shuttle runs and things like that. I thought they were working and a lot of that stuff really paid off."
"It's just knowing everything, getting the hang of all the plays and everything, knowing the scheme, knowing the system, really hitting the playbook, really hitting the film extra, knowing what it really takes if you want to get at that level, to be there," Wilkerson said. "Really, just that film transition, it's not emphasized enough. They emphasize it, but when you're a freshman coming in, you think, 'Oh, this isn't really that hard,' but you really need to get in and do your homework, to know what you don't know."
The best teacher for both Wilkerson and Camporeale has been senior inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who moved to the inside to accommodate the number of young outside backers on the roster.
"Mike is very helpful. He helped me last year with everything, with the transition," Wilkerson said. "He went through everything when he was a freshman with the transition, and he helped me a lot, kind of carried me under his wing. I was roommates with him during camp last year, so he really helped me with the transition, just technique, moves, stance, everything like that. He helped a lot. He was very helpful."
Kendricks' mentorship and switch to the inside have been integral to Camporeale's ability to rise through the ranks, as well.
"Honestly, it's my third year here, so we've all been kind of shifting around and moving around. That moving around, that's an All-Pac-10 backer moving, so it probably opened up a little bit of an opportunity for me. There's still plenty of competition that I still had to work against," Camporeale said. "When we go into our Oregon package, and everything like that, he played so well that game, knows exactly how to do it, how to do some of the techniques that we've been doing. He actually has helped us out on top of having to learn all of his new inside stuff."
On the offensive side of the ball, there hasn't been nearly as much shuffling about, with the starting unit staying largely consistent throughout fall camp as well as during the first few days of game preparation. When asked what starting tailback Isi Sofele did to distinguish himself, Tedford said that Sofele's game experience -- albeit limited to two starts and 420 yards on 81 carries over 25 games -- has put him ahead of the pack.
"Good camp. Good camp. Besides his calves that one time, he really did a good job. Solid," Tedford said. "There's always competition, but there's been nothing there that has put anybody ahead of him."
With such sparse action, the Sept. 3 opener will really put the junior tailback to the test.
"We're going to see," Tedford said. "Any time you throw anybody new in -- I have a lot of confidence in him -- but any time somebody new goes into the game, there's a learning curve, from when the lights go on, and it's game day and all that kind of thing, the adrenaline is flowing and things happen and so any time you have somebody new - whether it be a quarterback, a tailback, or whatever - their first time, it's not his first time, but his first time under an extended role."
When New England Patriots draftee Shane Vereen took over for Jahvid Best in 2010, he had already played in 26 games, carried the ball 325 times for 1,667 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground. Last year as the back up, Sofele ran 69 times for 338 yards and no scores.
"That's because Shane was healthy and you know, it felt like Shane was healthy and in good shape and could carry the load. He was stronger last year, so he could carry the load," said Tedford, who expressed little trepidation in Sofele as an unknown quantity. "I don't know about uncertainty. It's just a matter of keeping him fresh and communicating with him on how much he can really do before the other guy needs to get in there. Coach [Ron] Gould really does a nice job of keeping a good pulse on that."
With the starting two wide receivers -- senior Marvin Jones and sophomore Keenan Allen already well-entrenched -- the task for the staff now is to get some of the new kids involved, including home-run threat Kaelin Clay, who practiced in full on Saturday for the first time since having surgery on his meniscus after injuring it the second day of camp.
"Kaelin did a few things early. He did a few things early and did a good job," Tedford said. "I would anticipate that he plays, unless I go in and they tell me that there's something else that came up, but who knows? Maybe next week, Wednesday, he gets real sore or whatever, but he's really coming along nicely, and I anticipate that we could see some action from him."
"We have quite a bit in, and as we get closer to the game, that's the great thing about it: we have seven more days to continue to study and do things and get comfortable with everything, because game planning is a little bit different," Tedford said. "You put your base stuff in, you get the game plan and there's always tweaks here and there, so each week is different for the guy that has to conceptualize what we're getting done and things like that. There's always the first game where you're not exactly sure what they're going to do, and so, which part of it is what we're going to see? I think we're prepared for everything, because of what we're seeing from our defense, it gives you a little bit of everything that there is. I don't think that there's anything that we don't see."
True freshman wide receiver Maurice Harris is beginning to run now on his tweaked knee, but he is still a ways away from returning to full, active duty.
"He's a little bit further [away]. He's running now, but he's a little bit further away," Tedford said. "He's running, he's running as well, so I would think another two weeks or another week, Maurice should be back and ready to go."