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The California football program hardly gave Kyle Kragen a second glance after initially scouting him earlier this year. Despite the paucity of healthy defensive ends on the roster, then-head coach Jeff Tedford and his staff did not continue recruiting Kragen after seeing him in a game.
When Sonny Dykes took over as the 33rd head coach in program history, he began at Cal what he'd been doing for three years at Louisiana Tech -- scouring the junior college ranks to strengthen the offensive and defensive lines. That commitment to finding college-ready linemen paid off this weekend, as he not only got commitments from Sione Sina and Erik Bunte, but Kragen, as well, who just about committed on-the-spot.
"Really, I've grown up a Cal fan, and I've been going to the games since I was little, so it didn't take much for me to be sold," Kragen says of his official visit this past weekend. "It's amazing. I hadn't really had a chance to really sit down and think about it, but out of nowhere, it was my number one school. It's crazy. I'm really happy, excited and I can't wait."
Kragen says that his champion all along has been administrative defensive assistant Tag McCurdy -- a former Concord (Calif.) De La Salle Spartan, Diablo Valley College linebacker and Cal special teams standout.
"Tag McCurdy, he went to DVC, so he knew my coach, and he actually came to one of our games, and told my coach that Cal was looking, and then, we never heard anything from that," Kragen says. "When the old staff left, I got a call from Ben Steele, another one of the assistant recruiting guys, who said that I was on their radar, and when the new coach came in, they would let me know what was up, and I guess Tag really went to bat for me."
This weekend, Kragen got a chance to get the behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium he'd been going to for years, but had not been in since the extensive $321-million renovation.
"I hadn't been there since the renovations, and the facilities were unbelievable. It was definitely a plus," Kragen says. "We toured the facilities, went to San Francisco for dinner, went to the Cal basketball game on Saturday night, hung around Berkeley. There weren't that many people to meet, because there weren't really any coaches there, just the assistants and recruiting guys that were still there from before, and they were all really nice."
While in Berkeley for his official, Kragen was hosted by locker room favorite Austin Clark, and the sparkplug defensive tackle helped to make a big impression on his future teammate.
"My host was Austin Clark, the defensive tackle, and we went to a house and met a few other guys. They were all cool," says Kragen. "It seemed like they really cared about Cal football, which was a little different than my other visits. They were really talking about how they think the team's on the way up."
Kragen himself has been on the upswing, growing from a 6-foot-1, 212-pound linebacker out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley into a 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end after two years at Diablo Valley College.
"I've always had the same work ethic. It was just applying it in the right places and figuring out exactly what I needed to do to be good," says Kragen, who befriended a young quarterback by the name of Zach Kline while he was still at San Ramon Valley. Kline, of course, is a favorite to snag the starting job next season for the Bears. "He played on varsity the first three games, and played a lot in game three and then actually, they called him up again for the playoffs, and he played in our playoff game. I'm definitely friends with him, for sure, and he works out at the same gym as I do -- California Strength -- so I know him from that. I'm definitely friends with him."
One of the biggest plusses on the weekend for Kragen was getting to meet the man who renewed his recruitment -- Dykes.
"I mean, really, coach Dykes was one of the coolest coaches I've ever met," says Kragen. "Really funny, very real, not fake at all, and just told it how it was."
Kragen says that his strength is as a pass rusher, and judging by his stats this past season – 65 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss – he could very well see some early playing time next season.
"Pass rushing -- that's what I pride myself on. I try to be the best one there is," says Kragen. "They haven't really talked too much about scheme or where I fit. They just said they need D-ends, and I've got a shot to play. That's all I need."
Beyond the Commitment: Kyle Kragen
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