The Three Amigos: From Mater Dei to Cal
It’s just over a week before National Signing Day, 2014. As he’s done for years, California offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was stopped, watching the waves crash on the shore along the Pacific Coast Highway. When he’d been out to California for his Tony Franklin System seminars through his career, Franklin made a point of stopping by Mugu Rock with his wife. It was a familiar scene. But, this time, his partner was head coach Sonny Dykes, and he was on the other end of the phone.
“I had the conversation with him and told him that I had strong feelings about it,” Franklin says, the ‘it’ referring to offering a second quarterback in the 2014 class – a quarterback named Chase Forrest.
“He knew all along, and he liked him, and he saw his arm talent, and he knew what he had,” says Franklin. “He knew the style of play was a lot different, but there’s been a lot of good quarterbacks come from that school, and his fundamentals were really good.”
Forrest had thrown for the Bears staff the previous summer. The Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei quarterback had no other Division I offers. Franklin was adamant.
“He agreed with me that we should go ahead and do it,” Franklin says.
Forrest wasn’t the only player Cal had eyed from the Orange County powerhouse. Offensive line coach Zach Yenser was pushing hard for Forrest’s center -- Addison Ooms.
“Obviously, we were limited [with] offensive line scholarships this past season, and he was definitely a consideration for one, but the two guys committed, and we were only going to take two high school guys,” says Yenser.
Ooms had been talking with Yenser for “a couple months” before Signing Day, and had an offer from San Diego. He was “pretty close” to getting an offer from San Diego State.
“Zach had talked about Addison for a long time,” Franklin says. “Zach had watched him and liked him on film. We just didn’t have the numbers to sign him this year, and he had liked him. He was more on the radar. He and Chase were on the radar.”
There was a third name, though, that popped up as Franklin watched and recruited Forrest. He was far from a big name – both literally and figuratively. Little 5-foot-8 Matthew Rockett didn’t have a lot of catches, or a lot of yards, but Forrest was adamant that he could be a Division I player.
“He kept telling me about Matt Rockett,” Franklin says. “He kept telling me about him. Matt was playing mainly defense. He was playing safety, and he would knock your head off. He was aggressive. Chase kept telling me, he said, ‘The kid’s a great receiver, he’s a great DB, but he’s got a chance to be a really good player. He’s tough, he’s hard-nosed.’ We watched his film, and we liked him a lot. Then, it was just a matter of working the details out.”
The Bears didn’t have scholarships for Rockett or Ooms, but they had one for Forrest. It took less than 24 hours from offer to commitment for Forrest, but the others needed some work.
Rockett, Forrest and Ooms had known each other since their Pop Warner days. Over their years at Mater Dei, they became nigh inseparable.
“All-Stars. The end-of-the-year game, he was my center I think two years in a row, but we always played against each other,” says Forrest.
“We were best friends growing up, and that kind of was a big factor to deciding to come here, when Chase came here, and then Addy, and then I got a call from coach Franklin,” says Rockett. “It just seemed right. We all fit together. We all fit in high school. It just seemed right that we move on together to the next level. That’s a rare occasion.”
For Rockett, it was Forrest and his mother that just stayed on Franklin, telling him that if the Bears were going to take Forrest and Ooms, they might as well complete the set. Franklin watched film, and agreed.
“This kid could play,” Franklin says. “Addy was already, Zach had already zeroed in on him and we felt like he was already going to be a fit.”
At this time a year ago, Rockett didn’t think he’d be playing Division I football. He didn’t have any offers – preferred walk-on, scholarship or greyshirt.
“No way, and definitely not here,” he says.
Forrest, Ooms and Rockett all say that their recruitment happened almost simultaneously, and, just a week before Signing Day, they decided to all take their official visits together.
“I had a funny story. I was on my official up here – Chase and I were in the airport down in Orange County, and I was getting recruited by ASU a lot, also, and they called me that same day,” Ooms says. “They said, ‘We have a plane for you; come fly out,’ but I came to Cal instead, for the official. I think I may have screwed something up there, but I didn’t really have much. I didn’t have that much hype and I didn’t do camps. I just went 100-percent for my high school. That was my mindset.”
On that official visit, the three fell in love.
“Matt was kind of at the end of the recruiting process, and he was going to go to Arizona, and he had already committed to going there, so shoot, we just tried to convince him not to,” Franklin says.
That convincing worked. The former Monarchs were going to be Bears. Then, the work started.
“They’re a pretty tight group,” says receivers coach Rob Likens. “That’s a tight football team they’ve got down there.”
Mater Dei didn’t just prepare Forrest, Ooms and Rockett for college football; it prepared them for the academic rigor of Cal.
“I don’t want to say ‘easy’; it wasn’t easy,” says Rockett, who had “above a 3.0” GPA in high school. “Obviously you have to work hard and make our mark, but it definitely helped, coming from a known school, coming from a powerhouse, with the transition. Everyone welcomed me, and I’m getting better. There’s always stuff to work on.
“I could have done better, but I’ve learned new respect for myself since coming here. I’m blessed to be here, and it’s a great opportunity for me, and for everyone.”
The trio was thrown into five-week classes that condensed four months’ worth of material, and, as Rockett says, it wasn’t easy.
“I think the work, going through bridge, and I think [Ooms] would agree, too, we both had really, really hard schedules,” says Forrest. “It demanded a lot of discipline, a lot of hard work, and we got that at Mater Dei. I know, specifically, writing, I thank my teachers so much for all that. It truly helped out a lot, when we got here. I felt, personally, that it really helped.”
“I felt the same way,” Ooms says. “I was taking a 16-week course in five weeks, and I was taking a math class, too. It was tough, math-wise, because of the work load, but when it came to learning the material and knowing how to learn, it definitely helped.”
Mater Dei helped them on the field, as well.
“So much. It’s night-and-day, what they’re doing at Mater Dei, honestly, the way they have camp there, they have us working hard 100 percent of the time, going to watch film and all that stuff,” says Ooms. “I don’t want to say it’s exactly the same, because it’s another level up here, but they definitely prepared you, and the league, as well – the game speed, the way we’re coached – that really helped, as well.”
On the field and in the weight room, the three began to gain fans among their teammates. Cal players began to call Rockett “Little Bryce,” referring to another former walk-on receiver, Bryce McGovern. The nickname was both literal and figurative.
“The kid wanted to play, and he knew he could play at this level. He didn’t think he could; he knew he could,” says Franklin. “The day he got here, he started working, and people started talking about him: Tough, fast, strong, mean, good hands, good ball skills, all that stuff.”
With every catch, every touchdown in team periods, Rockett’s popularity grew and grew. He became something of a cult hero in the locker room. Then, one fateful night, the receiver who’d been known as Rockett Man and Rocko gained a new nickname, when the team attended a screening of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring a smart-aleck, rough-and-tumble, foul-mouthed sociopathic raccoon named Rocket.
When the Bradley Cooper-voiced bounty hunter first came on screen, the team, in unison, turned to Rockett, and said, ‘That’s you!’ The nickname stuck. As the comic book rodent says, “Ain’t nothing like me, ‘cept me.” At 5-foot-8.5, 175 pounds, that’s certainly true of Rockett, who’s now played in both of the Bears’ first two games.
“He’s really tough,” Likens says. “He is a natural football player, and that’s a term that coaches use all the time. There’s guys out here playing football, and then there’s football players, and he’s definitely a football player.
“The thing about freshmen, when they come in, you never know what you’re going to get. Every year, you think, ‘This guy’s going to come in and be ready to play,’ and it’s always some guy that you didn’t think of. When coach Franklin watched him practice, he knew that we had something special there, and we’re glad that he decided to come to school here. He’s done a tremendous job.”
As for Ooms, the offensive line’s resident redass – and, perhaps, a stand-in for Drax the Destroyer -- Jordan Rigsbee took him under his wing. Whenever Ooms got into a scuffle with the defensive line, it was Rigsbee egging him on from the sidelines.
“It’s kind of funny, because the O-line, each player has kind of taken somebody under their wing, and Chris Adcock kind of took me under his wing, but I’ve known Jordan since January now, and I’ve always thought we were similar,” says Ooms. “He’s a great guy, really cool, and you see him on the field, we watch film, and he’s so relentless all the time, and I want to model my play after that. He’s so in control, but at the same time, he’s just nasty, and that’s the way I want to play.”
Yenser sees a lot of similarities between Ooms and Rigsbee, including a nasty disposition up front.
“I think Addy’s an aggressive guy,” Yenser says. “I don’t know if he’s as loud as Rigs. But, I think that he has a chance to be a really good offensive lineman, and obviously Rigs is a good offensive lineman, also. I think he learns a lot. I think Addy’s kind of connected with him. They sit next to each other in meetings, and Rigs is one to talk. He’s played every position along the offensive line.”
Through fall camp, Rockett ascended the depth chart, and took first-team reps with a wide receiver group that included plenty of established stars, while Ooms began taking second reps at center. At no point did Rockett ever sit back and go, ‘Wow.’
“Yeah, and no. We hold ourselves to a high standard, and we expect to work hard and get better and we don’t expect to just come in here and sit back and watch,” he says. “We want to improve and help the team in any way we can, and if we get first reps, then we’ve got to make the most of those first reps.”
Forrest competed with Rubenzer for the backup job through the first week and a half, and showed off a strong arm, plus accuracy and, despite his time in a run-based offense, a good feel for the Bear Raid.
“Chase is a very, very good pure passer, the pure passing guy that, once he gets hundreds of reps inside the pocket, he’s got rushes coming by him and all that, he’s going to be a real good player,” says Franklin.
For Ooms, it was déjà vu all over again.
“In high school, I was in the same boat,” Ooms says. “They didn’t really know who I was. I was a sophomore, my first year on varsity, they didn’t really know who I was, but I came out, first day of pads, and they said, ‘You’re going to second-team center.’ Then, I went, ‘Wow!’ So, same type of situation right here.”
While Ooms is nominally the backup center, he did not get into last week’s bench-clearing affair against Sacramento State, for good reason.
“We’re going to try not to play him,” Franklin says. “We’re hoping not to play him this year. We would like to preserve the redshirt, if at all possible. Unless there’s an injury, that’s what we’ll do.”
Franklin hopes that, down the line, Ooms can be put on scholarship and be just like any other recruited lineman.
“From the day that he got here, the first day that we put him in, the best thing about a center is if you never notice him,” says Franklin. “I never noticed him. Then, we said, ‘I think I’ll watch film and see if he’s any good,’ because I didn’t notice him being bad. We watched him, and he was good. He’s just a good football player. Those kids came from a program where the offseason stuff is important. Winning is important. Tradition is important. They understand work ethic, and they understand how to win. It’s a great pipeline, and we hope to continue it.”
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