California commits Michael Saffell and Chase Garbers were doing their normal dance on Madden -- with Saffell losing soundly to the more schematically-inclined Garbers two weeks ago -- but Saffell was saved, at last momentarily, by a phone call. New head coach Justin Wilcox was announced, and not 20 minutes later, he called Saffell.
"We were actually together when coach Wilcox called for the first time, playing Madden together at his house," Saffell said. "He called, and he's like, 'What're you doing, man?' I'm like, 'Playing with your future quarterback on Madden right now. You want to talk to him?'"
That was the day that Wilcox was hired. Saffell can't remember the teams he and Garbers were controlling, but he did remember that he was being beaten, badly ("Obviously, he was winning; I just like to run middle dive and use the O-line, and he's a lot smarter with the audibles and knows what scheme he's trying to run, while I'm more blitz up the middle and run middle dive," Saffell said). Saffell also remembered that Garbers was ecstatic: Cal was going to be running a more pro-style offense, which meant, among other things, a power run game, more tight end involvement and more work under center.
Following the conversation, the two went into post-game analysis mode.
"I think Chase, it was honestly surprising for me, because Chase was super unfazed by the whole thing," Saffell said. He was like, 'I am going to Cal, and there is no second option. I am going to Cal.' That was pretty exciting for me to hear that. He was so into it. I committed with him, and he's also another reason I committed. I like him, he's a super-cool guy, and I love how he plays the position. Hopefully, we can be roommates together and stuff, and be super best friends up there."
Saffell, on Tuesday, got an in-home visit from Wilcox and new offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, as the pair made a lengthy southern California swing.
"Not that I was iffy or anything, but him coming in, and me knowing who the offensive line guy was [...] obviously I appreciate everything coach [Brandon] Jones did, and he's a hell of a coach, and he's going to do a great job at Texas Tech, but getting another good offensive line coach -- basically a legend -- in Steve Greatwood, was very exciting," Saffell said.
Greatwood and Wilcox stayed at Saffell's home in Orange County for about an hour. There was little that Saffll didn't already know, after his talks with Garbers, and others around his Santa Ana (Calif.) Edison program.
"We just kind of talked, and we've both been pretty good in the group chat, about telling guys to stay committed, and things like that, and I think we were both super excited that he got hired," Saffell said of he and Garbers. "From what I've heard, I have coach Dave White at my school, and his son, Hunter, was a linebacker, and played for coach Wilcox at Boise State. I heard from Hunter White everything he loved about him, being a players' coach, being super fiery, as well. I talked to coach Jesse Sapolu, who I work with at Men in the Trenches. He played with coach Wilcox's father [Dave] at San Francisco. He knew him, and he knew the family and loved them, so I already had a pretty good idea of what kind of guy he was, and just being of high character, a high-caliber guy, so I was super excited when I got that call [from Wilcox], and he was excited."
Once Greatwood was seated in Saffell's living room, Saffell was a stone-cold, iron-clad lock.
"It was reinforcing their energy for the program, and how excited they are to kind of rebuild it," Saffell said. "It was reassuring to hear coach Greatwood say that he wanted to be with coach Wilcox, and that he was rolling with him. That's who he wanted to coach with. That was very exciting to hear. The whole time, we talked a little bit about what it would be like when I got out there, but basically we just talked about the Polynesian Bowl, and what I learned up there, and just set up for the official visit this week."
Wilcox had told Saffell that he'd come down to do an in-home before the all-CIF Division III center before he departed for Hawaii for the Poly Bowl, but Saffell said he didn't need to. Instead, Saffell and Greatwood chopped things up once Saffell returned from the Islands.
"It was awesome," he said. "Coaching wise, Olin Kreutz and Ronnie Stanley, the two coaches out there, and Ron McBride and Dick Tomey, legends in college football, just having those coaches out there, I think, was probably the best part of the experience. Getting that coaching, that was really cool, and getting to work with Olin Kreutz, probably one of the best centers in the last 30 years, one-on-one, that was really fun."
The trio also talked about the upcoming official visit weekend, which will see Saffell reunite with Garbers, making one big push for roommate status, but also sitting down and talking with offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, with whom Saffell has not yet had a chance to speak.
"I think I'm excited just to be with the guys, there," said Saffell, who sports a 4.3 GPA. "I've seen Berkeley enough, I know it's where I want to be, I know it's my home, but I'm just excited to go there, to be with the guys and talk to the new coaches a little more in-depth, and kind of get the vision of the program from all their perspectives. Also, to be with some of my future teammates, and have a good time talking to the coaches and [seeing] what they want to do with this program."