Aaron Maldonado (Blair Angulo)

Aaron Maldonado has been in the back of Cal head coach Justin Wilcox's mind since his time at USC

A chance encounter with Justin Wilcox at a USC camp several years ago set the stage for Aaron Maldonado's Cal offer.

After school on Wednesday, La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat defensive tackle Aaron Maldonado heard from his area recruiter -- California's Gerald Alexander -- that he should probably give the Bears a call. 

What Maldonado didn't know was that the man on the other end of the phone -- new Cal head coach Justin Wilcox -- was already more than familiar with Maldonado's work.

"He coached at USC for a little bit, and the summers in eighth grade and freshman year, I went to USC camps," Maldonado said. "I guess that's where he noticed me. I went out there in the eighth grade, and I got put up with the seniors, when they were doing one-on-ones, and I started dominating the seniors. None of them were able to block me, so that's when the coaches were like, 'This kid is good.'"

That impression stuck with Wilcox, who officially offered the 6-foot-3, 296-pounder during that phone call.

"He said that he liked that I was very coachable, and that I always get after it, and that I'm just a dominating player" Maldonado said. "I know that they're really good coaches, and they come from experience."

Maldonado currently plays defensive tackle and nose guard in a primarily 4-3 alignment, so there will be some adjustment to the Bears' 3-4.

Maldonado was originally listed as an offensive guard, but each of his offers -- Cal, BYU, Hawaii and UCLA -- have come on the defensive side of the ball. Maldonado didn't get a chance to speak with defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro, but he did speak in depth with Wilcox.

"I keep hearing stuff, that Cal's obviously one of the top academic schools around, like, in the nation, and that's really nice to hear," Maldonado said. "If you graduate from Cal, you're basically set for life, if you do well and get your degree."

This last semester, Maldonado had a 3.8 GPA, and has a cumulative 3.33. His English teacher, Raymond Rodriguez, a Cal alumnus "has nothing but good things to say about the school." 

Maldonado wants to study engineering or accounting. He's currently taking Honors Math Analysis right now, and next year, he'll be taking Advanced Placement Calculus (BC) -- the highest level math one can take in high school.

"I'm really good with numbers, and that's what I think is easy for me," Maldonado said. "I feel like that would be best, plus, you can make good money. That's a little plus, right there."

He would prefer to stay closer to home so that his family could see him play, but at the end of the day, "It's whether I feel at home or not, if it's the right atmosphere and stuff."

Maldonado will find out how much Berkeley feels at home on a visit within the next couple weeks, with his family.

"It's really important, because if I commit without visiting the school, and I go in and it's not the right place for me and I don't feel at home, that could really mess a person up," Maldonado said. "You need to see if you feel comfortable, at home with the coaches and the players."

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