When new California inside receiver commit Matt Laris talks about the Berkeley culture he encountered on his Sunday unofficial visit, he’s not talking about anything new. His uncle – Steve Burden, Laris’s mother’s younger brother – went to Berkeley in the late 1970s, so he knows just how unique the Cal experience can be.
Burden, though, let Laris make his own choice, and stayed out of the recruiting process. Until Friday.
“I’ve been talking to him for a while, and he’s really excited for me. He’s really hyped about it,” Laris says. “He had kind of left me alone. He wanted me to make my own decision. He said he loved it there, and he wouldn’t have rather gone anywhere else. I have another uncle in the Bay Area, so I have family there. That really helps with the decision, because I know that I can go there, and if I’m feeling homesick, I can have some family there, and it’s only an hour-and-a-half plane ride away, so that’s not too bad.”
When Laris and his family – including father Robert, who played football at Puget Sound -- came to Berkeley on Sunday, it wasn’t with the intention of committing, but spending a day on campus simply blew Laris away.
“I checked out the whole facility, and I just loved the whole place,” Laris says. “I love the whole community there. Everything felt great to me, and I just thought, ‘Why would I wait?’ I didn’t want to let it slip by, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to commit. I came back with my family, thought it over, and we had a bunch of long conversations about it, and we decided tonight that Cal was for me, and decided to go there.”
Over the past two days, Laris says, the idea that he wanted to be a Golden Bear crystalized more and more, though, he says, the four previous commitments this week – from cornerback Josh Drayden, receiver Logan Gamble and Drew Kobayashi and defensive tackle Russell Becker -- didn’t sway his decision process.
“I think, ever since we visited there, we all kind of had an idea, and we just had to talk it over, as a family, and I think, yesterday and today, we were really decided,” Laris says.
What really closed the deal were the coaches, in particular, inside receivers coach Jacob Peeler.
“I love the guy,” Laris says. “It’s not just him – it’s the whole school – but he did a great job of communicating with me, and making sure I was up to date on everything, and just really letting me know about the school. He has helped so much with the whole process. It was amazing.
“I just loved all the facilities. That was amazing. I know they’re pretty new. Then, just the campus, it’s beautiful. I loved that. I got a feel for the whole culture of the place, which I loved, also. The whole thing just felt great.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Bear Raid offense is a perfect fit for the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Laris.
“I love the whole offense,” says Laris. “I love the schemes they run, and I love how fast-paced it is. I just love the whole community. There’s just something about it where I feel like I can fit in, and I feel like I can definitely stand out on the football field, and really help them get to that next level of play. I just love everything about it.”
Last season, for Washington 3A state champion Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Christian, Laris hauled in 72 passes for 1,394 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“I don’t know if it was a game plan thing, but I just found ways to get the ball, and it worked out for me,” Laris says. “I wasn’t necessarily looking to be a ball hog or anything, but the ball came my way, and I did what I could to help the team. That’s what I’m all about.”
In the state title game against Bellvue (Wash.), Laris was limited to just two catches for 28 yards, as his team rushed 61 times and passed just 22.
“Definitely it’s good-against-good, but I think our game plan was more to run the ball, and get them on the ground, first, then go to the air,” Laris says. “They were definitely covering me a little bit heavier than other teams were. You know, I wasn’t disappointed at all. I got the championship, so I was as happy as if I had gotten three touchdowns and 200 yards.”
Still, despite his gaudy numbers, there are elements of Laris’s game that he still wants to improve. While he had six games of over 100 yards receiving (and scored a at least one touchdown in nine of 14 games), he was shut down at times, with three catches for 28 yards against Seattle (Wash.) O’Dea and one catch for 21 yards in an early-season match against Arlington (Wash.), though he battered the Eagles for six catches, 135 yards and one touchdown in the regular season finale, a 42-14 win.
“I would say, personally, my routes and my leadership, definitely,” Laris says. “I’m just open to everything. I think it’s going to be a good year this year, and I’m going to do everything I can to win another championship.”
Laris is very much a team-first player, and a football junkie. Other than going to Mariners games (he’s a lifelong fan) or playing varsity baseball, he spends most of his time working out for football. Laris loves baseball, and hopes to play next spring (he hit .206 as an outfielder in 18 games this year), but he loves the physicality and camaraderie of football more.
“I think I was pretty even on them, but once I started getting offers from football, I realized that’s what I needed to do, and that’s what my passion was for,” Laris says. “Everything that’s happened with the championship and all the friends I’ve made through football and everything about it. I love baseball – don’t get me wrong – but something about football, with the team and putting your body on the line for your teammates every Friday night is just amazing to me.”
With a 3.6 GPA, Laris says that academics were just as important in making his decision, though he doesn’t know what he wants to major in quite yet (he’s considering business or engineering, and likes math and science).
“That was huge,” Laris says. “Since the beginning, I’ve been looking for a good academic school. That was one of my main points that I wanted to get. I wanted to get something out of the college that I go to, and I think Cal is perfect for that, because they’re just so high up there, academically.”