On Tuesday, California added a preferred walk-on to the kicking competition that's set to continue during fall camp, in Canadian boot Gabe Siemieniec out of Caledon East (Ont.) Robert F. Hall Catholic School.
"It's the high academic standing and winning football team, the legacy of players who have played at Cal and who will, it was an opportunity i could not pass up," Siemieniec said.
Siemieniec kicked for Team Ontario against Team USA in the 2016 International Bowl (hitting a short 20-yard chip shot), and in February, Bears special teams coordinator Mark Tommerdahl got into contact. This season, playing under Canadian rules (three downs, 110-yards long, 65-yards wide fields rather than 100 yards long by 160 feet wide), Siemieniec was 9-for-13 on field goals, with a long of 46.
"Back in February we were in contact, he just sent me an email saying he wanted to talk over the phone and that's how it started," Siemieniec said. "It wasn't until this month that he flew up to watch me kick and make his evaluation then."
Neither his team nor his league keeps track of kickoff distances and punting distances, though he did both this season.
"That's the downside to playing football in Canada," Siemieniec said.
The upside of coming to play in the United States?
"The amount of opportunities to kick, switching from three-down football to four," Siemieniec said.
Two weeks ago, Tommerdahl flew up to Canada to watch Siemieniec's workout at Guelph Gryphons Alumni Stadium for an hour-long session, where Siemieniec went through his paces -- 15 kickoffs (with 7-8 going each direction), eight field goals and four punts. That workout was on a Thursday, and on Monday, May 24, Tommerdahl offered Siemieniec the preferred walk-on spot. He'll mainly be competing for the kickoff spot.
Siemieniec had similar offers to Western Kentucky, South Florida and Eastern Michigan.
"I was ruling the pros and cons of each school, and friday i called coach Tommerdahl and told him i wanted to commit," Siemieniec said. "It was only a recent decision by my family and I to announce it."
Siemieniec's goal is to be the kickoff specialist, and to compete for the field goal spot, which Matt Anderson has all but sewn up.
Last season, Cal was 116th in special teams efficiency (11th in the Pac-12), with just 15 touchbacks on 92 kickoffs, a stat Tommerdahl related to Siemieniec. The Bears averaged 55.7 yards on kickoffs, with a net of 37.0 yards -- both 10th in the Pac-12. The Bears' 15 touchbacks were the third-fewest in the conference, behind USC (11) and Oregon State (7).
"They have Matt Anderson, their starting kicker who was outstanding on field goals last year but not as solid on kickoff," Siemieniec said. "[Tommerdahl] was telling me he's looking for someone to fill that spot. He mentioned a back up kicker who is all round good at everything but primarily serves as a back up and also a JUCO transfer who did not win the kickoff job from Matt Anderson."
Tommerdahl told Siemieniec that "the best kicker wins the spot."
The 17-year old Siemieniec graduates next month.null