Wake up call for Noah Westerfield brings him back to the fold for the Cal defensive line

After a gangbusters freshman campaign, it wasn't a stretch to say that Noah Westerfield was a future defensive star. But, after a season on the bench, Westerfield re-made his body and mind, and he's now set to be the leading candidate to start once again.

During last week's Wednesday scrimmage, the defensive star was Noah Westerfield, who'd just been named No. 1 on the rush end depth chart two days prior. The junior defensive end came up with a sack, a quarterback pressure and a pass breakup, serving as a terror off the edge for the California defensive line. As a true freshman, Westerfield had played in all 12 games, with five starts. It's no stretch that a player who got so much early exposure would wind up as the No. 1 on the depth chart two-thirds of the way through spring ball.

But when you look at his resumé, there's a big hole. All of 2015, to be exact.

California defensive line coach Fred Tate once described himself as a “knucklehead” when he was in school at Jackson State, a state of being which wound up with him serving in the U.S. Army. Last season, Westerfield, one of Tate's protégés, took after his position coach, sans the olive drab wardrobe.

"Where else his mind was, I don’t know, but it wasn’t on football, this last year," Tate says.

Westerfield was, at one time, hailed as the next big pass rusher for the Golden Bears. In the wake of yet another injury to Brennan Scarlett, Westerfield -- a true freshman -- was named the starting defensive end midway through the 2014 season. He played in all 12 games, started in five, and tallied 17 tackles and three quarterback hurries.

Westerfield may have gotten a fast start in the college football world, but it took him about a year to get his start in the college social world, and, he admits, he dove in with both feet, and took off his cleats, to do it.

“It was a mixture of everything, off-the-field stuff, school stuff, even on the football field kind of stuff. It was a mixture of everything. I finally kind of hit college for a minute, and I had a hard time,” Westerfield says. “I wasn’t going to sleep on time. I was staying out late, going to parties, not really focusing on football. I wasn’t coming in, working on my craft. I was doing things that I don’t usually do.”

Westerfield saw action in the first three games of the season, and made precisely two tackles -- both against Grambling State. Westerfield played just "eight or nine" snaps against Texas on Sept. 19, in the middle of his home state.

“I told him, ‘You’re not getting the job done. You’re dead weight,’" Tate says. "I talked to him about that, and that opened his eyes up, from a guy who ended up starting in seven games the year prior, to basically a scout team player. That’s the way he was playing. That’s the way he was practicing. We had that conversation, then he didn’t travel, and we didn’t dress him. I think that opened his eyes up."

So, Tate and Westerfield decided a change was in order. Westerfield was switched into the developmental lifting group, to get his mind right, and to get his body right. If he wasn't playing, he said, he "might as well get jacked."

"I'd just to go in, every day, at 6 a.m., and I changed my mindset. I put myself in a tougher situation," Westerfield says. “I was always [lifting] with the travel squad, but I just didn’t travel. So, the developmental lift was a lift with all the redshirts, the freshmen who didn’t play. They would come in at 6 a.m. every day, and lift, during the season. It was like an offseason, but during the season, and I was lifting with Looney and DeVante and all of them, the normal group, and we were doing sets of one, sets of two, light weight, because it was season time, but I’m not playing, so I might a well switch to the younger group.”

"I was excited because I knew that he wanted to do everything to help himself which would in turn would help the team," says strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington.

http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1658312-cal-releases-sprin...  "You want to act like a player who isn’t playing, then you’re going to work out with them, because you’re not getting it done," Tate told him.

Even that, though, didn't quite hit home. It was when Westerfield -- already lifting with the stay-at-home crew -- didn't travel to play at Utah that the situation became real. He was being left behind, in every sense.

“We had some older guys like Kyle Kragen and Todd Barr come back, motor guys, who were going into their senior year, and they were all focused," Westerfield said. "I wasn’t.”

Instead of Westerfield heading to Salt Lake City, it was true freshman Cameron Saffle, who made his collegiate debut during the game.

"That kind of hit me hard," says Westerfield. "Coach Tate was like, ‘Man, Saffle, he’s doing some good stuff in practice, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to play, and we’re going to leave you at home.’ After that point, I started changing my act a bit. At that point, it was already over for me, that season, and I had to push through it, and wait until spring ball.”

Westerfield didn't simply bide his time. He got some serious work done.

“I'm so much stronger," Westerfield said. "I’ve had big gains on power clean, bench, and I probably PR’d 30 pounds in everything.”

In the bench press, he was sitting at 365 pounds. Now, he's pressing 385. he was power cleaning 285, and now, he's at 300.

“I could have gotten 315, but they shut us all off at 300," Westerfield says.

With that strength increase, he's also made sure to be more flexible, and for that, he needed some stretchy pants.

“I worked on my flexibility a little bit, because I’d been having hip problems," he said. "I’ve been in yoga classes."

He started his yoga regimen three months ago, right at the end of the season. He'd already seen those strength gains, but wanted to find another, extra edge that he knew he'd need in the spring and fall, and getting his namaste on has given him that edge. It's helped him find his center, even as he's coming off the left edge. It all started on a whim.

“It was by myself. I went to this one spot, on Shattuck, and it was a free class, and I liked it, so I kept going by myself," says Westerfield.

And, if you're envisioning a 6-foot-3, 250-pound behemoth in the middle of a bunch of petite yoga pants-clad young ladies, sticking out like a very, very large sore thumb, you're not too far off.

“It was cool. The ladies were all cool," Westerfield laughs. "After I went back home, I did a yoga class and a stretching class back home over break, and over spring break, too. You get everything right, and take myself to the next level.”

Before spring ball, head coach Sonny Dykes put a challenge to Westerfield.

“Noah Westerfield probably was a little disappointed in the year that he had, and he's somebody who's come a long way in the offseason, and we're looking for good things out of him," he said the week before spring ball started. Tate's was more direct: You've got to be better. So far, he's answered.

“He’s on a mission to be the starter, and he’s on a mission to not lose the job," Tate says. "Hopefully he continues to get better, because he has gotten better. Each day, in terms of fundamentals, his effort’s there, and he can be a good football player; he’s just got to do it.”

A week ago, Westerfield unleashed the beast, coming up with a sack, a pass deflection and a quarterback pressure. The week before, he'd turned in a forced fumble during scrimmage situations. This Monday, he batted down another pass and came up with yet another sack. 

"We’ve had so many physical practices, and at a certain point, I had to just let it go," says Westerfield. "[Last Monday] was a perfect day. It was hot. It was like I was back in Texas. I didn’t have to stretch as much, because I’m already loose. I’m already sweating a lot. I was like, ‘It’s time to let it go,’ and I just went.”

“It’s a very encouraging sign," says Tate, who lost defensive end Jonathan Johnson and defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil after last season, due to graduation. Now, along with Luc Bequette, it's Westerfield who looks to be taking up the slack. "He’s got to get consistent with it. It can’t be, ‘I did it, so I can take the next scrimmage off.’ He’s got to be consistent. To be a good team defensively, and up front, we’ve got to have that kind of play out of all four of those guys. He’s the one that can bring that stuff to the table; he’s just got to do it consistently, and then it becomes a habit.”

Once again, it's not a stretch to see him as that terror rushing off the edge that he was supposed to be, once upon a time.

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