Excitement ramps up for Memorial return

Center Brian Schwenke is among handful of Cal players that have seen transformation of Memorial Stadium first-hand.

BERKELEY, Calif. – As construction workers continue to put the finishing touches on Memorial Stadium ahead of California's season-opener Saturday against Nevada, center Brian Schwenke knows the finishing touches he would put on the first touchdown in the renovated venue.

"I got moves," he joked Wednesday when asked if he had a celebratory dance stashed away.

It would take an extreme set of circumstances for the senior from Oceanside (Calif.) to end up in the end zone with the football, but Schwenke is among a select group of Golden Bear players that has seen the $321-million dollar renovation to the brink of completion.

"I think I'm one of the only people that got to go everywhere, so that's pretty cool. I can say I've played in San Francisco, here, the new stadium, the old stadium," Schewenke said, having played in all 13 games at Memorial during his first two seasons.

Cal played last year across the Bay at AT&T Park, meaning it will be 22 months since a home game was actually contested on campus.

That absence should result in a frenzied atmosphere for the expected sell-out, with ticket sales already in the "high 50,000s," according to an athletic department spokesman.

"I'm excited," Schwenke said. "I can't wait, just to see all the fans. I don't think they all made it out last year to San Francisco, so it's going to be cool to have them all back here."

While fans will be getting their first look at the upgraded venue, the team has spent the past five days practicing exclusively in its stadium after alternating between Witter and Memorial for the last week of fall camp.

It has given players time to get used to the new artificial turf, and reviews continue to be extremely positive.

"It really reacts like grass," head coach Jeff Tedford said. "The footing is good."

Besides the opportunity to become familiar with its surroundings, there is the added convenience of no longer having to trudge uphill in full pads before every workout.

"Now that we're in the stadium, it's nice that we don't have to walk all the way up there. That's kind of a hike," Schwenke said. "Everything here is awesome."

But all the bells and whistles won't mean anything if Cal fails performs on the field, a mantra Tedford and players continue to emphasize again and again.

"How we play is what is matters now," redshirt senior linebacker Robert Mullins said.

For Schwenke and a reconfigured offensive line, that means holding off the Wolf Pack front. Nevada returns only one player with significant game experience in junior tackle Jack Reynoso, his two career sacks tied with middle linebacker Albert Rosette for most among returning defenders.

In the two years since Nevada trounced Cal 52-31 in Reno, the personnel may have changed but Schwenke expects the defensive line to feature the same blue-collar mentality.

"When you play some of these Pac-12 teams, you get some really talented guys who take plays off, " he said. "These guys will work you, try to out effort you. We're not going to let that happen."

And if Schwenke ends up with a touchdown along the way, it would represent a perfect kind of symmetry. Center Edwin Horrell recovered a blocked punt for a score, the first in stadium history on Nov. 24, 1923, in a 9-0 win over Stanford.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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