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August 28, 2012
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READ MORE: Fall Camp Central
Imagine you're in Indio, Calif.'s Stagecoach Festival, strolling through the various campers and trailers -- Daisy Dukes, Texas-sized belt buckles, plaid and cowboy hats as far as the eye can see. All of a sudden, from amidst the sea of normal-sized human beings, a quintet of giants amble down the way -- a head taller than anyone else at the annual country music extravaganza.
Beneath their own ten-gallon hats and scraggly facial hair -- but well north of the requisite belt buckles, of course -- is scrawled, in arched script: California Football.
At the head of this group is a pair of brothers -- 12 feet, nine inches and 596 pounds -- of Craig Rigsbee's pride and joy.
That's how this summer went for redshirt freshman left guard Jordan Rigsbee and his older brother Tyler Rigsbee -- a fifth-year senior starting left tackle.
"We went to Stagecoach -- a small group of us -- and it was a wild trip," says Tyler. "It was really fun. We've seen some concerts over there at Shoreline, we'll go eat together, just something to try to bring the group together and be close, because it's important ... I think that's one thing that I want to do as an older guy in this group, was to really bring our unit together. I think that's important for an O-line. We've been to concerts, we've been to all kinds of stuff together. We've tried to do some fun stuff together, and get to know everybody."
Jordan has spent the last year and a half getting integrated into the crew of Big Uglies, and his big brother has been the maestro.
"We hang out a lot together off the field, and one thing people always ask is if we live together -- we don't live together just because he's going to be gone and I have my own friends, as well -- but we go to dinner a lot, talk football, do our thing, we go to the movies sometimes," says Jordan. "We hang out quite a bit, so it's cool."
That bonding -- stemming from the two brothers -- has helped mold the new offensive line -- which will take the field on Sept. 1 against Nevada without three of last year's starters in Dominic Galas (torn pectoral), Mitchell Schwartz (now starting at right tackle for the Cleveland Browns) and Justin Cheadle (rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs), and with a new center in former left guard Brian Schwenke.
"This is only my second year, but it's the closest we've been since I've been here, with this new class of freshmen that just came in," says Jordan. "We do a lot together. We all like country music. We all go to country concerts together -- that's one thing we all do. We try to hang out a lot. You can feel us coming together more as a group, definitely."
Even after spring ball, Jordan was set to be a starter along the offensive front.
"I always know that there's going to be competition," says Jordan. "In the back of my head, I'm getting excited, but also in the back of my head, I know that I need to get better, because if I'm going to be the one out there playing, then I'm going to need to step up my game. I want to be able to contribute to the offense and do what I need to do."
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After two weeks of fall practice, he'd cemented that starting role as the left guard -- right next to his big brother. The two have not played together since Tyler's senior year in high school.
"We played two plays together my senior year," says Tyler. "He came up for the playoffs, for the first game, and he got in at the end of the game. It was pretty cool. But, he was young and didn't get to do much, so it was kind of something we've had a good time with, with our family there. It was something we talked about, that we'd like to do it again some day."
"It's been really awesome," says Jordan. "Us being able to work together the way we can, I just feel like the chemistry we have with each other makes it easier. When everything's going hectic and you're trying to make the calls, we work really well together. It's always been something that we wanted to do our whole lives, and now that we have that opportunity, it's been awesome."
One of the big bonuses of having the two brothers man the left side of the line has been the unspoken bond they share -- and their propensity for out-doing one another.
"They push one another, they support one another," says head coach Jeff Tedford. "They're in the foxhole together -- there's no doubt about it. They play with a lot of energy. They're very motivated. I love their attitude."
"I think there's a positive with them being brothers because they do work well together, and they communicate very well together," says offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik. "I think this is [Tyler's] time. He's had some setbacks along the way, and he's got the physical talent. Now, he's got to go out there and prove that he's the guy and take it and run with it. I know he had a good spring and he's really improved along the way, but, you know me: I like competition. I'd like to see him be the guy, because he's stepped out in front of the other guys who are pretty solid."
A bright and astute young man, Jordan has been eager to learn from the experience of his older brother. He is a coach's son after all -- he knows how to listen.
"Tyler's helped me learn a lot," says Jordan. "I've learned a lot from him. One thing is just the playbook. A lot of guys will try to teach you the playbook, but it's kind of hard to listen to them because you don't know them very well, but I can really listen to him and he's really helped me out a lot, just watching what he does. He leads by example a lot of times, and you just follow him and know that I'm going to be on the right path."
Of course, being Big Bro, whenever Lil Bro does something wrong, the flashbacks of many a noogie and living room wrestling matches get him right back in line.
Tyler talks a mile a minute when he's asked about his relationship with his 6-foot-4, 306-pound baby brother, and how the two feed off of one another in practice.
"When it's a double day, and you're grinding it out and you can look over and your baby brother's right there, fighting there with you -- we have a great block -- that's what it's all about, man. That's why you play football -- those special memories as teammates," says Tyler. "There's been a couple times, man, where we've been just grinding out and smacked somebody and got up and high-fived and ran back, and we're in the huddle -- that's pretty darn cool. We kind of get each other going. It's pretty fun for us."
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Tyler has even learned a thing or two from the redshirt freshman Jordan over the course of fall camp.
"Absolutely, man! It's fun! I can't get one-upped by my baby brother, so if he gets a flat-back, I've got to get two -- that's the way it's been our whole lives," Tyler laughs. "We're having fun with it. It's been really good for me, and it's been pretty cool."
Some of the biggest lessons Tyler has learned from Jordan have been fearlessness, aggression and pure moxie. Jordan is a hard-nosed mauler between the lines, but like his brother, is a teddy bear once the helmet comes off.
"He's my baby brother. We have a wonderful family. We've been raised the right way. He's the nicest guy in the world, man, but when you put that helmet on, that's how it's got to be: It's time to go and kick some butt. He's really fun to play with," says Tyler. "He's nasty, man. Jordan will never settle. Jordan wants to knock somebody out every play, and that's what I love about him. He is the most exciting guy to be with, and he's a little spark plug for us, so he's going to try and knock somebody into next week."
That attitude meshes well with the philosophy espoused by Michalczik, who -- after recruiting Tyler in 2008 -- left the Bears less than a year later to take the same post with the Oakland Raiders. In 2010, Jordan was being recruited by then-Cal offensive line coach Steve Marshall.
Though Marshall would depart before signing day, the younger Rigsbee already had plenty of connections to the program.
"I was really coming more for the coaches, and because it's Cal," says Jordan. "That's just kind of where I've always wanted to go."
Craig -- who has the two all their lives -- was the head football coach at Butte Community College in 2003, when Tedford came calling to check out tight end Garrett Cross. Tedford left Butte that fateful night buzzing about Craig Rigsbee's stellar quarterback, a young man by the name of Aaron Rodgers. The family still has a signed blue and gold Cal jersey from the Super Bowl-winning signal-caller hanging up in the family room of their Chico, Calif., home.
On Jordan's official visit, Craig told Tedford that, now that he was handing the Bears skipper his second son, and after he'd given Tedford both Cross and Rodgers, it was now his duty to start winning again.
"He had a good relationship here," Tyler says of Jordan. "He knew all my buddies on the O-line, but I kind of told him, you know, 'It's something where you've got to love it here. You're going to grind it out for five, four years, so you need to be in the right place.' I said, 'Look around and make sure that this is the right spot for you,' but he felt really comfortable here, and he has a good relationship with all our buddies. Our O-line is close, and he told me, from the start, 'I think this is what I want.' I tried to let him do his own thing, because I thought it was important that he learned everything on his own, but he was pretty fired up to be here."
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Then, of course, Michalczik returned in early 2011, much to the relief of both brothers.
"I respect the heck out of him. He's the best at what he does," says Tyler. "He's the first guy who's going to pat you on the butt when you do a great job, he's the first person that's going to critique you when you do something that you need to work on. We all respect him. He's going to be after our butt, and he wants us to be great, and that's what we're going to build to. As an O-line, we always try to be perfectionists, and that's what he expects -- nothing less. That's the way it should be.
"We always say, you'd be mad if a guy is not coaching you. As an offensive lineman -- as any player -- you want to be coached. They have a motive behind it, they do things for a reason, and when you're old and when you're done with it, you might be mad at it -- 'Why are you yelling at me?' -- but at the end, you go, 'That's why he did it. That's been the point. I fixed it. I did something, and we're going to win games for it.' That's what it's all about."
It's something the brothers are more than used to. When Craig visits practice, it's an odd day when he doesn't pull his two boys off to the side afterward to offer a few pointers, but as a coach himself, he knows when to leave the finer points up to the man with the NFL resum?
"One thing that's cool about my dad is that he's a real football head," Jordan says. "He always asks me, 'What is Coach having you do here?' just kind of trying to see what the new way of doing things is. He really doesn't try to coach me a lot. He'll try to help me a little -- keep your head back -- but as far as technique goes, he just likes to hear what Coach M is teaching me and that kind of thing."
After Jordan signed, the two brothers were set on the path to once again play with one another. Given Tyler's injury history, it was far from a sure thing that the pair would line up next to one another in a game.
It's been a long road for Tyler -- who's constantly battled injuries over the past four years. This past offseason, under strength and conditioning coach Mike Blasquez, he's re-engineered his body, dropped bad weight and added muscle.
"Absolutely. It's just another year in our strength program. Coach Blasquez does a great job to get us where we need to be, so it's another year older, stronger and smarter. It's made a big difference," says Tyler. "We had a great year in the weight room. I'm coming into it healthy. I've had some ups and downs with that, but I really just tried to grind it out this offseason, work hard and try to prevent some stuff and just be healthy and go out there and have fun, so it's been good."
The significance of this being the year in which Tyler has finally found himself healthy -- and not only that, but starting -- is not lost on Jordan.
"I'm really proud of Tyler," says Jordan. "He's had a rough road. He blew out his knee, and that really put him back quite a bit. He's finally fought his way back through shoulders, knees, all that kind of stuff, and everything's kind of come together to click at the end for him, and I'm glad I can be there to share that with him."
When Jordan first arrived at Cal, the Bears were inhabiting the surge facility adjacent to Witter Rugby Field. Before the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance was finished, the brothers -- and the rest of the team, two or three at a time -- cozied up next to one another in two-sizes-too-small Rubbermaid buckets for ice baths. Even though Cal now has roomier accommodations, the two Rigsbees still squeeze into the same tub, surely a flashback to childhood dunks.
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"It's pretty cool -- it almost looks like a Jacuzzi, but it's cold," laughs Jordan. "We have a nice dunk. Everyone kind of just jams in there, getting all friendly."
Although in just his second fall camp, Jordan has now begun to grow into his brother's cleats right before Tyler's very eyes -- at least insofar as being a mentor is concerned -- with the influx of four new pups to the group in Matt Cochran, Christian Okafor, Steven Moore and Freddie Tagaloa. That doesn't mean that Big Bro is done teaching.
"We've got a really talented young group. I think the future is very bright for us up front," says Tyler. "That's our job as older guys: We've had a very good legacy here of older guys bringing young guys up and teaching them what it is to be a Bear -- to be a Golden Bear O-lineman. I'm excited. They're going to learn. They're going to have their ups and downs. They're going to have to grind it out in camp and learn the hard way, but I'm excited. The best thing about this young group and Jordan and those guys -- they're willing to learn. They're willing to put in the work to be better. It's fun.
"The big thing about the offense is that we want to play fast. We don't want to be waiting on some stuff. I think that when coach Michalczik came back, we were kind of slowed down, not understanding where we want to go, or where we want to do this, so I think the speed of our play -- really we know what we're doing. We're going to snap the ball, we're going to be hauling butt and just trying to kick peoples' butt. That's what it's about. We've had some very talented players come here before, but I think, as a group this year, man, we're playing fast, we're excited, we're doing the right thing, getting off the ball and getting after people."
And getting after people is what the Rigsbee Boys do best, even if -- sometimes -- they get after each other.
"We're just going to go out there, and whoever's afraid, we're going to try and kick their butt and play hard," says Tyler. "Whoever's playing, we don't care. We'll line up against anybody and block them and do our best ... We're just going to go out there and try and win."