Notebook: Justin Wilcox on NIL, Recruiting, Defensive Line, and More
Cal head coach Justin Wilcox put it simply when asked about the school being able to open up Memorial Stadium to full capacity in the fall.
"It’s awesome," Wilcox deadpanned, "that’s my reaction."
The Cal head coach took about 20 minutes Thursday morning to answer a handful of questions from assorted media members, with one of the first topics being the opening up of recruiting. Cal has added six new commitments from the 2022 class over the last three weeks, as Wilcox noted there's nothing like an official visit in the virtual realm they've been stuck in for the past year-plus.
"It’s going really well, it’s nice to have them come down and see us," Wilcox said. "It has been a long time since we’ve been able to host people. Our staff, coaching staff and support staff have done a great job in the last fourteen months of educating people virtually and recruiting virtually, which is a challenge. There’s nothing like having them on campus, it has been really nice to have them here and it has been very positive. There’s really good momentum in recruiting right now."
The return to normalcy is seen in the visits, as while the Bears had to change a handful of things for protocol reasons, not much has changed with the majority of the visit. There's still a tour, film watching with recruits, trips around the Bay Area, with a couple other bells and whistles added in, but it's similar to what they've done in the past.
"For the most part, it’s what we’ve done in the past," Wilcox said, "there’s a couple different things we have to do protocol-wise. We feel like when the recruits and their families come to campus, we feel like we’re able to do what we need to do to educate them on Cal and give them the appropriate amount of time on each aspect of the program, with tours and things like that. It’s not exactly like it was before, but it’s pretty close."
On another side, the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in Alston v. NCAA has made NIL rights for student athletes a big topic of discussion. It's something Wilcox is keeping an eye on, as he's supportive of NIL rights for student athletes.
"Our administration is actively engaging in conversations with the conference office," Wilcox noted, "the NCAA, directly and indirectly, with the state. They have those discussions and relay that information to me. One, I think it’s good for the student-athletes, we all support that. Things are going to change, to what degree, we don’t quite know yet. I’m certainly in favor of the student-athletes being taken care of in an appropriate way. There has got to be some guidelines, the variables are different, and I think if you try to boil it down to one bullet point, you’re missing it."
The Defensive Line
Cal's defensive line remains one point of concern for the Bears without Brett Johnson for the year. Johnson is recovering from a fractured hip he suffered in an automobile accident back in March, which will keep him out for the season.
"He’s doing well, he spent a good amount of time at home with his family while he was resting and recuperating," Wilcox said. "He’ll be here with us shortly and he’s doing great. Considering the significance of the injury, he’s doing really well. It’s obviously a challenge physically and mentally with the things you have to overcome, but Brett is an ambitious guy, he’s driven and extremely tough, not only physically but mentally. He will be a person who responds to those adversities in a strong way. He is in as good of a position as he could be in, as far as I know, from the doctors and the rehabilitation folks."
In the interim, Cal has added College of San Mateo defensive lineman Darius Long to add another body to a relatively young room. JH Tevis and Aaron Maldonado are the most tenured (and despite pulling himself out of the transfer portal, Gabe Cherry will not be back with the Bears after opting out in 2020), but there will be a focus on developing the young group of linemen, with seven linemen from the 2020 and 2021 classes looking to be developed.
"We’re really focused," Wilcox noted, "like with all positions and all players, developing the players who are here, and open to adding players who weren’t on the roster last year, we feel really good about that room. It’s difficult losing a player like Brett, but we’re eager to see the guys on the roster."
A piece that could make a massive difference is the return of Luc Bequette. Bequette, who transferred to Boston College last fall prior to the Pac-12 annoucing a return to play, is expected to come back, but per Wilcox, it's up to the NCAA on that front.
"There’s a couple outlined things and hoops to jump through, but we hope to have an announcement soon," Wilcox said, "but nothing to report today. Luc’s situation is really unique, to transfer when there was no season or the claim there was going to be no season, we fully supported him, then the 180 the conference made, Luc was then playing at Boston College, and was interested in coming back. Now it’s really just the NCAA, that’s the final piece of the puzzle, it’s in the NCAA’s hands. Everything is moving forward in the right direction."
Bequette started the first 38 games of Wilcox's tenure at Cal prior to transferring last fall, and has an extra year of eligibility, his seventh, thanks to the NCAA blanket year of eligibility from the 2020 season.
Other Depth Chart Notes
Wilcox was asked about the quarterback situation behind Chase Garbers, and with the additions of Under Armour All-American QB Kai Millner, Penn transfer Ryan Glover, and walk-on Blake DeBisschop, the room has a few more guys who can compete for the backup job. Coming out of spring, that spot belonged to Zach Johnson, and he'll have to compete in the fall to keep that.
"Coming out of spring, there were a couple guys who did good things finishing spring football, with Zach and Robby (Rowell)," Wilcox said, "but we’ve added some faces to that room. I think the best way to categorize it is that it’s wide open."
Wilcox also discussed the DB room, which has four starters heading into at least their fourth year in the program, along with a few other young standouts who should compete for more time.
You’ve got some veteran guys with Josh Drayden, Elijah (Hicks), Daniel (Scott) has played a lot of football for us," Wilcox said, "Chigi (Anusiem) has played a fair amount, then there’s really talented young guys. I think it’s going to be very competitive in the fall, Craig Woodson’s another guy who had a really good spring. The group is improving every day, they’re finishing spring workouts and starting summer workouts and they look good. We think there’s some really talented guys in that group who need more work."
With a final weekend of recruiting in June upcoming, the Cal coaching staff will likely take a break at the beginning of July, before ramping up into football season.