SANTA ANA, Calif. -- Erik Bunte may be on the sidelines this week for the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, but that doesn't mean he's not getting a lot of mileage on his gimpy right ankle.
When not sitting and bending a prospect's ear on the benches, Bunte is patrolling the field, chatting up anyone who will listen, particularly if that someone is interested in Cal, and especially if they are fellow Golden Bears commits.
"I've been talking to all of them, and the ones that I've found out along the way, I've come up and introduced myself and they're all really nice. I can't remember all their names so far, because there are so many of them," says Bunte, who is among seven Cal commits at this week's festivities in Southern California. "I've introduced myself to all the commits and I'm trying to build a relationship with them."
Bunte already has a relationship with the Bears' newest commit -- fellow offensive lineman J.D. Hinnant -- after spending some time over the summer at a leadership program in Long Beach.
"That's awesome," Bunte said after Hinnant committed. "I already tossed him a tweet. I know he has been through some great adversity with the car crash he went through. That's some devastating stuff, but I'm pumped to have him on the squad."
Bunte is, of course, slowed up by an injured ankle, which, he sheepishly says, happened when he went up for a lay-up in pick-up basketball, and then came down on a weakened joint which had been put through its paces as Bunte trained up for the Semper Fidelis Bowl.
"I hurt my foot when I was playing a game of basketball, but I was doing some redirectional sprints, and that's when I initially sprained it, and it just got worse during basketball," Bunte says. "It's just an ankle sprain, but it's bad enough to keep me out for this week."
Bunte jokes that after that mishap, his mother won't let him so much as go skiing, or even go up to Mammoth or any of the other local winter spots because, he says, she knows he'll just rent his own skis and potentially do himself harm again.
"She won't even let me leave the house without ankle braces on," Bunte laughs. "She's really strict about everything. She's treating me how I should be treating myself, but that's why she's there for me."
Of course, it just had to be this week that Bunte played that ill-fated game of hoops. The ever-affable offensive tackle says he was depressed when he found out he had cost himself the opportunity to play in the second-year contest, which is hard to believe given his proclivity for being the event's paterfamilias.
"It's really depressing, because one of my biggest dreams of high school was -- everyone's is to get the ring, but mine was to make it to one of these bowl games -- and to finally make it and have to watch everything around me is just a real bummer," Bunte says.
It's not the first time Bunte's been surrounded by a bit of a cloud. Before his senior season, he decided from Santa Margarita to Mission Viejo, which, admittedly, raised some concerns about Bunte's constitution.
"I had mentioned before that it was strictly based off the coaching situation," says Bunte. "I never like to really go further into details. It was just me and that coaching staff did not mesh well, and I didn't want to surround myself with that type of environment, which is also the main reason why I de-committed from UCLA, and why I'm happy now, with Cal, and I think I made the right choice."
When Bunte decided it was time to part ways with UCLA last month, he took an official visit alongside Kyle Kragen and Sione Sina -- the pair of junior college defensive ends the Bears inked to letters of intent on JuCo Signing Day. He fell in love.
"It was that click that everyone talks about, that I thought was just a myth," says Bunte. "But, when I got there, I didn't feel like I was away from home. I felt like I was at home. I didn't feel uncomfortable. I felt really friendly with coach Dykes and everyone else I was getting to meet, and it was just a great experience. That's when I knew that's where I wanted to spend my next four years."'
Unfortunately for Bunte, he decided to commit on Dec. 16 – the day before the holiday dead period commenced, and a week before Cal announced the addition of Chris Thomsen as the offensive line coach.
"It was kind of a bummer," Bunte says. "I'm still able to message coach [Sonny] Dykes. I'm able to send coach [Tony] Franklin a few messages, but the dead period is almost over and it's going to pick back up again pretty soon."
Franklin has made it clear that the kind of offensive lineman he wants is, essentially, a description of Bunte: Long, lean, athletic and able to move. Bunte has had limited contact with Franklin due to the dead period, but the times he has been able to speak with him have been a gas.
"I love coach Franklin," he says. "I've only met him once, myself, but I love coach Franklin so far. Every single member of that coaching staff, a lot of guys with a lot of honor and integrity and they're ready to kick some tail in the Pac-12."
Despite the limited contact he's had with the new staff, Bunte already feels closer to them than he did the previous regime.
"Before the coaching change, they were still recruiting me pretty tough. I had messages consistently from them, I had a somewhat-good relationship with coach [Jim] Michalczik, but, because I didn't have that strong of a relationship, his departure didn't affect me much, in my relationship with Cal," says Bunte.
When the previous staff was shown the door, Bunte was neither concerned nor hesitant.
"I was actually excited to see what they were going to bring in there -- a new coaching staff, to see if he came from a successful background -- and to bring in coach Dykes with the second-leading offense, that's beyond impressive," says Bunte.
Of course, it's not just the staff that's impressive for Bunte. It's the fit.
"I think it was the moment we were walking outside the business school. It wasn't even when we went on the field. It was just looking around, you see the big bear statue looking at the stadium, it just felt so comfortable," recalls Bunte. "It just felt like such a home that it was then, when I was talking to the tour guide, Muhammad [Muqtar] that I felt that it was just amazing."
Semper Fi: Erik Bunte
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