BERKELEY -- It was a rather unorthodox official visit to California for Stanford commit Nifae Lealao this weekend. Since he was scheduled to take on Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd Monday afternoon at Haas Pavilion along with the rest of his Sacramento (Calif.) Capital Christian basketball team, he came to campus on Saturday, rather than Friday. Lealao finished Monday's game with six points and five rebounds in 16 minutes in an 86-60 loss.
After Lealao and the Cougars fell to O'Dowd and five-star 2015 forward Ivan Rabb, Lealao took some time to go one-on-one with BearTerritory and talk about his purported decommitment from Stanford ("Technically, I'm still committed," he says), his trip to Berkeley, how the two schools compare, and the future of the Cal coaching staff.
"It was good. You know, there were a lot fewer people than there were at Stanford, just 11 or 12, but obviously, it's a different atmosphere," Lealao said of Berkeley. "It's a different side of the Bay, but you still find the same genuine people. I like how they handle their recruiting. They're looking for what kind of person you are, rather than what kind of player you are. Obviously, football matters, but for them, it's mostly how you carry yourself, which I think is a good thing, coming from Sacramento. We don't have that many top-notch players in our area, and they bring them all together in the Bay. I really like that."
Personality, feel and fit are all big components to Lealao's decision, as are academics and his future outside of football. Lealao – who boasts a 3.8 GPA – spoke candidly about the rumors that his test scores didn't quite cut the mustard for Stanford admissions.
"A lot of people have asked the question, but there are those of us who don't have the answer yet, so I guess I'm still waiting for that," Lealao says. "Technically, I'm still committed, but I'm taking these visits just to keep my options open. I plan to go to Utah this weekend, and maybe in the next couple weeks, Oregon State, just to use my officials up. It was a good experience, and I want to see what the rest of them have for me."
Lealao's trip to Cal, though, was more than just a "keeping options open," trip. The Bears have been a close second behind the Cardinal for the length of Lealao's commitment, and Berkeley fits the unique U.S. Army All-American to a t.
"I definitely feel the same way I felt at Stanford. To me, whether or not I go to the other side – where there's just red – or this side -- where there's blue and gold -- I feel like it's whatever place will be better for me," Lealao says. "I grew up here. My parents are from here. I've got family all over the place on the whole Peninsula. Wherever I go, it'll be comfortable for me."
Lealao had long, drawn-out heart-to-heart conversations with head coach Sonny Dykes, and it's clear from the way Lealao speaks of the Cal program that the Bears are just as much a player as the Cardinal.
"Wins and losses are just numbers. Where I want to be, it's about how they carry themselves as people and as a team," Lealao says. "Obviously, football is what got me here, and I have a passion for it and I love the game, but I want to go somewhere, where I can get a good degree, and make relationships that last forever, rather than a record that people are only going to remember for the next year or so. After that, it's all in the past, and I'm looking toward the future."
Many felt his performance during the week of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Tex., elevated Lealao's stock as one of the elite defensive linemen out West, but Lealao looks at his week with a more critical eye.
"There are good things and bad things that happen at events like that," he says. "There are going to be issues where you come from a small school like mine and you're not used to playing five-stars and other four-star recruits and three-stars that should be four- or five-stars, who play at the same caliber you play, at the same position and everywhere else. It's a good challenge for me to kind of get used to what the next level is going to feel like. I don't think that my play there is going to solidify what I do in college. Obviously, there's a lot more work and improvement, just to polish up on things. There is still a lot more to come from Nifae Lealao, so that's just the start of it."
At least at this juncture, it looks like Cal defensive ends coach Garret Chachere will be the one doing the fine-tuning and the polishing, should Lealao flip from Stanford, but the Bears are also still working on getting a defensive coordinator, as well as perhaps another defensive line coach or a defensive backs coach.
"Pretty much, coach Dykes let all the recruits know, especially me and Marcus Griffin – being the two D-linemen – that it's on its way," Lealao says. "They have a lot of positions open, and they haven't really let us know who it is, but they have meetings set up for the D-coordinator, and they want us to meet him before we actually make any decision and any moves from here. We'll be in good hands, is what he said.
"I'm pretty sure that, whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3, either Marcus or I can play on the outside or on the inside. It's going to be fun for us. As we go on and finish college, we'll be able to play them all."
VISIT WEEKEND: One-on-One with Lealao
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