Canada was excited about the opportunity to play at Sac State. He redshirted as a freshman in the Fall of 1998 and worked out with the team. However, after a short time, Canada realized he wasn't ready. He struggled in the classroom and put himself at a major disadvantage. He decided it was best to transfer to a junior college, work on his grades, and mature physically while playing as much football as possible. It appeared that Canada was going to attend American River College in Sacramento so that he could stay in touch with the coaches at Sac State and return to the Hornets once he got everything taken care of. However, Canada reconsidered.
His girlfriend (known to message board posters this past Fall as "Bulldog Girl") was attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Tom decided to follow her to the Central Coast. The only junior college offering football within an hour of San Luis Obispo was Allan Hancock College, about a 30 minute drive to the south. The Bulldogs didn't recruit Canada...He just called and said "I'm coming."
Barney Eames and his staff did a little homework on Canada and found out that he was a good athlete and could work his way into a starting position, but where? Over the course of the 1999 season, Canada lined up as a linebacker, fullback, defensive end, and was even given some looks at tight end. The Bulldog staff knew Canada was a good player, but it was a matter of figuring out where Canada fit in best. His work at multiple positions helped the Bulldogs to the 1999 Southern California Championship and the state championship game against City College of San Francisco.
During the off season following the 1999 season, Canada worked hard to bulk up and put on weight to his big, yet relatively thin frame. At the same time, the Bulldogs were implementing their new "Bear," attacking style defense. Canada was moved to a three-technique defensive line position which allowed him to use his quickness and strength to push upfield against the offensive guard and tackle. Canada got his weight up to 250-pounds at 6-foot-3.
Canada and the Bulldogs came storming out of the gates in 2000, en route to finishing the regular season as the number one defense in the state. Canada recorded eight sacks during the regular season and spend most of the season harassing quarterbacks in the backfield. He attracted the attention of many universities with his non-stop motor from snap to whistle. University of California defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich, a long-time friend of Coach Eames, knew that Canada was the type of player that he wanted on his defense. Canada, too, felt he would be a good fit for the Golden Bears, and decided to sign with Cal and transfer mid-year.
Tom's impact was immediately felt in Spring drills. Cal's veteran defensive line coach Bill Dutton took notice of Canada immediately. "In all my years of coaching, I've never seen a player play so well so quickly," said Dutton. "He will play, he will start, and he will make an impact," Dutton added. During the Spring, Canada lined up at defensive end with the absence of starting end Tully Banta-Cain due to an injury. Although he did well, Canada may be moved back to an interior D-line position before the season starts.
"If I had come to Cal right out of high school, there is no way I would have made it. I probably would have flunked out of school," Canada admits. "Going to Hancock was the best decision I've ever made."
"The two years I spent at Hancock were the two most fun years of my life," Canada continued.
When asked if he felt it was better to attend a junior college for two years and transfer to a university or go directly from high school to a university, Canada didn't hesitate to endorse the community college system. "It helps you to prepare and make the adjustment academically and physically. If I could go back and do it again, I would go straight to a JC out of high school."
Tom Canada took an indirect route to Berkeley, but it appears to be the route that best suited him. He can give a lot of credit to the California Community College for preparing him for the Pac-10. Now, with two years of eligibility remaining and a full Spring under his belt, watch for Tom Canada #44 to make on impact on the Pac-10 just as he's make on his coaches and teammates at Cal.