GARDEN GROVE, Calif. -- Last year, there were six California commits on the West roster for the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. The Bears wound up going 1-11 with one of those players – quarterback Jared Goff -- at the helm.
This year, there's just one Cal commit – four-star wide receiver Erik Brown -- but despite the Bears' fortunes – and misfortunes – on the field this season, Brown has not wavered.
"I know first-hand how it is to have a coaching staff change. We struggled this year," says Brown, who's Fontana (Calif.) Summit squad went 6-6 with a first-round playoff exit. "We were also a young team. I was one of three seniors on my team, out of everyone. Just three."
That experience, Brown says, toughens a player. Players who come in to college with "all those rings," he says, makes losing harder to take, and even harder to learn from.
"They take it the wrong way," he says. "Learn from it."
Brown certainly learned from his challenging season, and from Cal's.
"First off, they're fixing their graduation rate. That's the first thing they're working on right now, and then, after that, it's just doing what you have to do with football: Be disciplined, get better and just work hard," Brown says. "That's basically what they're doing. They're changing a lot of stuff. A lot of things have changed, but in a positive way. It takes longer than a year to change a whole program."
Brown saw those changes first-hand when he made an official visit to Berkeley back in November.
"Just the changing environment, honestly, that's what stuck out to me," Brown says. "The new coaching staff, the young players have actually been through a lot of adversity. What stood out to me is just the changing atmosphere, and still how happy the players still are."
Back then, Brown was still committed to Washington, a commitment he flipped when he pledged to Cal.
"It felt […] the decommitment and the coaching change kind of, I don't want to say ‘startled' me, but it kind of made me think about a lot of different stuff, besides just where I want to be for the next four years," Brown says. "Once I finally got a chance to commit somewhere with the great school, a great football program, a great new coaching staff. I have a great relationship with coach [Rob] Likens. I felt good about it after it was over. Right now, I still feel good about it. I have nothing left to worry about. I don't have to worry about a top five or anything like that. I'm done with all that. I'm just a student right now."
Brown's relationship with Likens was one of the big reasons it was the Bears who got his pledge, rather than Notre Dame. Though he's not yet been to practice to see Likens tear around the field in a Red Bull-fueled haze (he'll be sure to make a visit this spring, he said), but he knows well enough how his future coach teaches.
"He's serious about that Red Bull," Brown laughs, before addressing Likens's coaching style, which sees him run side-by-side with his receivers, pressing, playing bump-and-run and forcing them to learn route discipline against a live opponent. "That's huge. That's big. That's hands-on. A lot of people learn better that way; I definitely do. I learn hands-on, visually, so it's a great thing for me. I can't wait."
Like Likens, Brown is a ball of energy. He had to be, this last season, as he played more positions than he can keep track of. Because of the paucity of experience on the team – Brown was one of just three seniors -- Brown played receiver, cornerback, quarterback and even a little bit of free safety, to go along with kick and punt return duties.
"I played everywhere," Brown says. "I did whatever I could for the team. I was not set on one position, therefore I didn't really focus on my numbers. I'm just being an athlete, trying to play the game. I did most of my work at corner, this year, honestly."
Brown didn't complete any of his three passing attempts, but lined up back of center in 11 games, where he rushed 24 times for 72 yards and one touchdown. Brown caught 40 balls for 631 yards and four touchdowns, and on defense, he tallied 33 tackles, including one tackle for loss, to go along with four interceptions and five passes defended.
When he arrives in Berkeley this fall, though, he'll only have to worry about offense, but just where on offense is still up for debate: X-receiver, Y-receiver, Z-receiver or H-receiver?
"All of the above, and I've talked to coach Likens. All of the above," Brown says. "Primarily, outside – Z or X – but they said they'll throw me in the slot, here or there, also."
Brown – a 3.5-GPA student taking three Advanced Placement classes this year, plus Honors Algebra 2 – is expecting to learn from more than just Likens. He has a bevy of other experienced receivers on hand to show him the ropes, including plenty of faces from his past.
"I talked with [Kenny] Lawler, because he's actually from my home town," Brown says of Cal's redshirt sophomore. "Me and Lawler, we have a great relationship. I played with him and his dad, I've trained with him and everything. He and I talk about it a lot, and he loves it there. I can't wait to go up there and learn from him, and the same with Bryce [Treggs]."
Treggs is a cousin of another Semper Fidelis All-American receiver – current USC commit Shay Fields -- who is also a cousin of Brown's best friend, so if he can sway Fields, he'll be keeping the Bears all in the family.
"I know Shay. We play seven-on together, and he's actually family members with my best friend. We've got a relationship," Brown says. "He's a cousin of Bryce Treggs, and I know Bryce, but my best friend is Tarik Miles, and he's their cousin."
This week, other than maybe putting a bug in Fields's ear, Brown is pleased just to finally be able to focus on one position.
"I definitely want to enjoy the experience, but I definitely want to play against some higher competition and get to focus on my one position, and see how well I do," Brown said. "Just be a receiver for a week, that's going to be fun."
Semper Fi: Cal Commit Goes In-Depth
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