Pac-12 Media Day 2022 Experience And Takeaways
I'm not a real journalist, but they let me bumble around with a "MEDIA" lanyard around my neck and ask Pac-12 football players some questions.
Author’s Note: This is going to be a long article about my experience at Pac-12 Media Day. If you’d like to get straight to the Cal portion, just CTRL+F “Matthew Cindric” or “Daniel Scott” or something along those lines. Or if you’re reading this from your email, click the big title “Pac-12 Media Day 2022” to open it in a browser first.
This is my first time doing something like this. I get my media credentials and take the escalators up to the 3rd floor of The Novo Theater in downtown Los Angeles. I’m used to talking smack on the internet, not interviewing people! Rob warned me ahead of time not to ask anything that would cause Write For California to lose their media privileges here, so I was mostly on my best behavior. I was so nice, in fact, that at one point I’m pretty sure the Stanford players probably thought I was there to cover them (the Stanford equivalent of WFC even tweeted out the players reacting to one of my questions). We’ll get to them later.
I woke up really early for this. I mean, a lot earlier than I actually do for my real job, which is now just a short walk down the street. I was told that I should get here early because they have breakfast, and I can kill time until Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff starts speaking at the main stage at 8am. They have a couple of long tables just in front of the stage, with power strips and wifi for people to work on their laptops. Oh shoot, was I supposed to bring a laptop? I look around and see a couple open seats in front of the stage, but I would have to squeeze in between some strangers, something I’m not fond of doing. The Pac-12 Commissioner will speak on this main stage, followed by each coach in the conference. Two players from each team, an offensive and defensive player, will be seated at a small table off to the side of the stage. It’s time to see about breakfast.
I’m already on the 3rd floor, and I’m told food is on the 5th floor. I get into the elevator (inside the building, as I took an escalator outside to get to this floor) which starts at the 3rd floor and has an elevator attendant. Three buttons here: 3, 4, and 5. I ask the attendant for 5. “No, sorry, we can only go up to 4.” Uh, okay, but isn’t the 4th floor the VIP Lounge? As I was walking to the theater in the morning, I saw David Shaw entering a door marked “VIP” with an elevator that only goes to 4. I took a sneaky photo of him, because when else am I going to see the Stanford head coach outside of a limousine or whatever their preferred mode of transportation usually is (a dirigible, perhaps?). The attendant takes me to the 4th floor. I am now in the VIP Lounge, and I clearly don’t belong. To my right is a series of serious TV and radio equipment, and to my left is, well, the VIP Lounge, where all the players and coaches due to speak much later in the day are hanging out. I feel very out of place, and I text WFC compatriot Alex Khalifa (who had texted me that he was already grabbing breakfast) asking for help. He tells me you’re supposed to take the elevator to the 4th floor, walk down the long corridor, and take a different set of elevators to the 5th floor. Who the hell designed this place? I walk down the hall, hang a left, and find myself at a dead-end. Oh well, I wasn’t all that hungry anyway. I head back to the 3rd floor where at least I know I belong. David Shaw walks right in front of me. He’s a lot taller than I expected.
Back on the 3rd floor, it’s almost time for George Kliavkoff to speak. It’s now way, way more crowded. Every seat is taken, and people are milling about in what I guess is the standing-room only section. Those are the two main themes of the day, by the way: overcrowding and an event design that makes no goddamn sense. Kliavkoff comes to the stage, and I stand around listening to him read off the teleprompter.
Something something NIL, something something we care about our student-athletes. Yawn. Eventually there’s a Q&A, and someone asks the commissioner “What gives you confidence that the 10 remaining schools are going to stay in this conference?” He answers, “…With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that. We haven't decided if we're going shopping there or not yet.”
Oh, that’s spicy. I bet someone on their laptop is going to tweet that one out. I ping the other WFC guys about it, but I’m not here to break news. I don’t even have a Twitter. There’s a couple more spicy lines from Kliavkoff, which you probably already read somewhere else first. Apologizing for his previous statement, he still threw in some jabs.
“That remark was a reflection of the fact I've been spending four weeks trying to defend against grenades that have been lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference. I understand why they're doing it, when you look the relative media value between the two conferences. I get it, I get why they're scared, why they're trying to destabilize it. I was just tired of that. That's probably not the most collegial thing I've ever said.“
I like this guy. He probably would have been a great commissioner for the conference had he been hired about 13 years ago (as opposed to Larry Scott, a guy born on 3rd base, running to 2nd base and thinking he hit a homerun). Maybe if Kliavkoff was here sooner, the Pac-12 Networks wouldn’t be so hard to find, and that Texas/OU conference merger goes through. Unfortunately, he’s probably been dealt an unwinnable hand here, but at least he’s going down swinging.
There’s a few other things of note mentioned in the Q&A, about how UCLA’s path to exit the Pac-12 probably isn’t as clear-cut as they might think, and that UCLA would still be welcomed back if something falls through.
Utah is up first. Kyle Whittingham comes to the stage, and he seems like a presence. I’m halfway between the main stage and the players’ stage, and I’m not sure where to go. I already set my DVR to record the Pac-12 network (and hence all of these coaches’ Q&As) all day, so I figure I should check out the players. In hindsight, this was a great decision, and I spent literally the rest of the day stood right in front of the players’ stage (well, minus a short break for lunch).
I bought a professional voice recorder for the event, but there’s already a bit of a crowd here. It’s going to take a level of aggression here to get in and ask questions, and I’m still too shy. I just spent the past 11 years in New York freakin’ City for Chrissakes, what’s wrong with me? Clearly the correct decision here is to elbow people out of the way and slap that baby down on the table right in front of them, cameras be damned. That’s the NYC way.
So, sorry, I didn’t record this one. Cal doesn’t play Utah in the upcoming season anyway. From memory, a lot of boring people asked a lot of boring questions. There was some interest in their season opener at “The Swamp,” against Florida. Something something “we came to play”, something something “we’re putting the work in,” yadda yadda. Standard media answers.
Oregon is up next. There’s a lot of excitement around this one. I guess they have a lot of fans or bloggers or fanbloggers or whatever. The first three teams up are Utah, Oregon, and Washington, all of which have decent-sized media contingents. I had left my Pac-12 swagbag (a tote containing beef jerky, a cell phone holder, a water bottle, and other eclectically chosen items, but also some of my actual stuff that I decided to store in the tote instead of my pockets) on a nearby table, and I was afraid of losing sight of my stuff, so I didn’t slap my voice recorder down on the table again. I’m in the back of the crowd, and Dan Lanning’s Q&A is being blasted at full volume through the speakers right above the players. This will later make it a huge endeavor to pull clean quotes from the players off my voice recordings. Christ, who planned this thing? I have no idea what the Oregon players are saying from my spot in the back of the crowd. Oops. But I did sneak another picture:
I stayed up really late the night before doing my research, looking at transfers in and out, and trying to figure out topics that I think might make for good questions. had I been more aggressive, perhaps I could have asked something like, say, what DJ Johnson thinks of new Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi’s new scheme. Does he remember the days where Tosh was vilified by Oregon fans?
Oh well. (Don’t worry, I eventually figure out this question and answer thing). I find out there’s a bit of time after one team’s players leave and before the next team’s players arrive where I can actually get to the front of this mob and place my voice recorder down. Success! I’m finally ready to ask Washington’s players some questions.
I’m now at least visible from the players’ perspective. There’s a number of things I could ask about now. I remember Alex Cook suffered a gruesome neck injury last year against Arizona. How’s his recovery? With Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie off to the NFL, who’s going to step up in the secondary? Things like that.
But here’s the whole media game. There’s apparently an art to immediately start asking a question as soon as you think the player or players are done speaking. Someone else might also start asking a question at the same time as you, so you need to use your authoritative voice to speak over them and command the players’ attention. Well, shoot, I’m a writer and I don’t have an authoritative voice, and I don’t even want to listen to the sound of my own voice. Instead, some bald journalist dude practiced in the art of asking dumb journalist questions is going to slip in some generic, boring question, which you could ask of literally any player and receive pretty much the same result. And these boring bald journalist dudes always asked the same sorts of questions. Let me summarize 90% of Media Day for you:
Q: Hey, [player], what do you think of USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12? / What do you think about the Big Ten?
A: Well, I’m already a senior, so this doesn’t affect me. / Well, coach tells me to focus on the things I can focus on, so this doesn’t really impact me. / Well, best of luck to USC and UCLA.
Another big topic was NIL deals. Half the offensive players set to speak at Media Day are offensive linemen, who aren’t exactly popular targets for NIL deals. Doesn’t matter, Mr. Bald Journalist Guy is going to ask them about the Big Ten or NIL deals anyway. Also, brief aside, I have absolutely nothing against bald people, and I may one day join your ranks. But it’s apparently my new journalist stereotype where some bald guy in a cheap sports jacket would ask some dumb questions, get his dumb answers, and leave. I’m also nearly face-blind, so it’s also possible it’s the same dope doing the same dumb things over and over and I have now extrapolated this to an entire stereotype. I can’t be certain.
NIL deals at least were a bit more interesting, at least in the cases they did apply. Most offensive linemen don’t have them, but UW OL Jaxson Kirkland was apparently once invited to a restaurant, told to bring all his friends, and they ate a ton of food for free in exchange for a picture. Is that an NIL deal? I’m not even sure.
The few players who actually were worth pressing for NIL details (say, Oklahoma/USC QB Caleb Williams, or Alabama/USC LB Shane Lee) rarely were. Instead, they’d insist that NIL had nothing to do with anything. No, top returning wide receiver Jordan Addison didn’t leave Pitt for money, he did it because he loves USC so much!
I didn’t manage to get in a question to the UW players, even though there was a number of people I wished I talked over. Next up is Colorado.
I didn’t have anything super pressing I wanted to ask, maybe just about the linebacker corps or what they thought of transfer WR RJ Sneed, but other people actually asked these questions. Good job other people. Still no questions from me.
But it’s okay, next up is Arizona, and even though they brought 3 television cameras with them, their interview would be punctuated with awkward silences, as not many people were around to ask questions (although there was quite a bit of interest in Jacob Cowing). Perfect for an awkward writer to finally punch in with some awkward questions.
A lot of the questions asked here could probably have been answered by reading the provided Pac-12 media guide ahead of time. UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing transferred to Arizona because he was previously a long-distance parent to his 2 year old. When asked the question, though, he talked about how coach Jedd Fisch sold him on the program and so forth. I have (almost) a day’s worth of recordings, and if you’re reading this, you’re here for Cal and not anyone else, so let’s not make this article longer than it already is. If you’re really interested in a particular team or player, I’m happy to respond to comments.
The awkward silences between questions finally gave me the opportunity to ask something without having to cut anyone else off. Jayden de Laura transferred to Arizona from Washington State, but de Laura had a big game against the Arizona secondary in the previous season. I eventually choked out a question, and I was so nervous I think Christian Young probably thinks I have a stutter:
Q: Christian, you went up against Jayden de Laura last year and he had a pretty big game. Are you getting the better of him now?
Young: Yeah, I picked him off in practice, but he did good versus us last year man, I’ll give that to him. He got an arm, he has good vision for a quarterback, you know, but Jayden is a good player and I’m glad to have him on our team. It’s just funny because last year when we were playing, me and him were just chirping at each other, and now I see him at Coach Fisch’s house and I was like dang, we were just talking smack last year. So it’s just funny how football works, and I’m glad to have him on the team.
In the words of GlaDOS: “I’m making a note here: huge success.” I’m finally getting my sea legs here. Very thankful Cal was scheduled for the afternoon, allowing me time to work these things out.
Next up is Stanford. I said I wasn’t going to get into the details of other teams too much, but this one is worth digging into.
I earnestly believe that both of these guys are at or at least near the top of the Pac-12 in their respective positions. It’s honestly a bit disappointing that there weren’t more people to engage with them, because they struck me as genuinely intelligent and well-grounded people. (It was waaaay easier to trash Stanford guys before I met them). The fact that pretty much no one was around, though, meant that I was free to ask as many questions as I wanted, and I was prepared for this. I may not have any super pressing questions for Colorado, but I could think of a thing or two to ask some Stanford players. Tanner McKee got married last month, and the occasional question-asker would ask a thing or two about it, or how he’s excited about playing in front of family in Utah, yadda yadda. But at the start, literally no one was asking anything. So I chimed in, asked how they felt about the proposed NCAA rule to allow for unlimited transfers; Kyu was pro-Transfer Portal, Tanner was indifferent since Stanford doesn’t take transfers (although I could think of Isaiah Sanders as a notable exception). I asked about losing both of their starting running backs, Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat, to the transfer portal (Jones to USC, Peat to Pitt), and they hyped up EJ Smith (son of NFL Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith). If you remember my Stanford offensive preview from last year, you’d know I actually agree with them. WFC’s Alex asked if there were any games that they’ve circled in their mind this season.
Kelly: “Definitely USC… so many great receivers… should be fun.”
I followed that up with “Looking for Big Game payback?”
Kelly: “Yeah for sure, my dad’s an alum there—”
(Wait what? I thought Brian Kelly went to USC?)
“—so it’s always a good thing to do.“
No no no, not “big game,” Big Game! BIG GAME! There was a palpable silence after this, as it took me a moment to digest what happened.
Another brief aside (well, mainly because I am re-listening to my recording, and this guy is the next question): there were two other notable characters I saw near the players’ table throughout the day. One guy asked almost every player what they thought of the NCAA ‘14 video game, and would follow up with game modes they enjoyed, what needs to be in the next game, and so on. The first time he asked the question, I was like, “wow, that’s a really interesting question, I like the way he piggy-backed off that NIL question to something more interesting and engaging to the players.” By the fifth time he asked the question, I was like “yeah, this guy is a video game developer at EA Sports or something.” If anyone does find his article (?), please let me know. Maybe not surprising, but the Stanford guys were the only guys he asked who weren’t super enthused about the videogame. Tanner McKee had never played it, and Kyu gave the vibe of someone who remembers having played it at some point.
Another constant was a woman who was not all that interested in football, but very interested to hear how schools support their student athletes, what their favorite classes were, things like that. I’d be interested to see what she puts together as well. Man, I should have networked better! Rob didn’t tell me to network, he told me to report on Media Day! I can’t multitask like this!
Fast forward a bit, I still wanted to come back and hear what they had to say about the Big Game. So I rephrased my question a bit:
Q: Is it too early for predictions about the Axe?
McKee: We’re gonna get the Axe back.
Kelly: [laughs] yeah. We’re going to do everything we can to get that Axe back. It’s called the Stanford Axe for a reason.
Some more NIL questions, McKee got his wife’s wedding ring through an NIL deal. Thunder “Justice” Keck signed a deal with WWE. Shaw changed his approach to coaching this year, going back to basics, throwing out the plays or calls they only run once or twice a year, and just get back to base plays that they run really well, not super fancy or super flashy, but they’re going “to play Stanford football.” McKee probably didn’t mean this, but I took it as an implicit admission that even he knows that “Stanford football” is boring.
I actually got something that I think is newsworthy out of Tanner McKee here. I asked if he was thinking of following Davis Mills’ example, 3 years and off to the NFL? (McKee is starting his third season, and is eligible for the NFL Draft after this season):
McKee: It’s definitely a goal of mine to play in the NFL, so I’m going to take care of business on the field and hopefully things will pan out. So yeah, that’s the plan as of now.
I was prepared for him to deflect, like most NFL prospects do, and then I was going to try to jokingly convince him to leave early, but he gave me a real answer. A few questions later, with Stanford’s time almost up, I finally asked the question I wanted to ask all along:
Q: Kyu, last year, at USC, Kedon Slovis really went after you. Threw the ball 42 times, 16 of them in your direction. You picked him off, you guys upset USC, got Clay Helton fired, Lincoln Riley hired, USC fled the conference, pulled UCLA with them. Do you guys feel responsible for blowing up the Pac-12?
McKee: [laughs] Great question.
Kelly: [laughs] I mean, uh, you know, I feel like those things happen on their own. I feel like it’s a coincidence how the timetable happened like you said, but I feel like all those things happened on their own. USC is a great team, those are all great players, I feel like they’ll all be okay no matter what happens with them, I hope the best for them—
McKee: Kyu takes full responsibility. [laughs]
After all these angsty questions from other journalists about USC and UCLA leaving the conference, I was just happy to establish who the true villains behind all this were. And with that, it was time for lunch.
Luckily, I had Alex to guide me this time, and as we went up to the 4th floor, I finally learned I was supposed to hang a right at the end of the VIP hallway, around this U-shaped wall (technically back to the left) which makes very little sense, because why would it?
Finally on the 5th floor, after a short buffet line, we had some food… and nowhere to sit (overcrowding again). There are limited tables, it’s a very hot day directly in the sun at noon on the roof, and I’ve already begun to sweat. Alex and I quickly swoop in at a table as others start to clear their plate, and shortly thereafter joining us were… the Stanford guys we just interviewed. Around this time, I think they realized I wasn’t actually a Stanford fan as I excitedly identified Cal’s Associate Director of Athletics Communications, who I recognized as he facilitated the Zoom interviews with Wilcox and the players during the Covid season. I wasn’t excited for him, of course, but because it meant the Cal guys were shortly behind. Sure enough, Justin Wilcox et al were seated at the table next to us. I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to speak to Wilcox here, because I absolutely had a question I wanted to ask off-the-record that I know he’d never be able to answer honestly during the televised media session.
After lunch, I take pictures of the CFP National Championship trophy, the Pac-12 Championship trophy, and the Rose Bowl trophy.
I briefly consider how difficult it would be to steal the trophy and escape, and the building labyrinth finally makes sense. I get my picture taken with the Rose Bowl trophy. I hope the next time I see it, it’s being marched down the streets of Pasadena. I make my way back down to the 3rd floor. On the 4th, I passed Yogi Roth in the hallway going the opposite direction, and I told him that I loved The Drive. I believe he responded with, “Yeeeeah, bring it back!” I didn’t realize it was canceled.
First up after lunch was ASU.
Cal doesn’t play ASU next year, so I didn’t really have anything for these guys. But I have learned that it’s important to camp out right next to the stage here. I probably asked a question at some point, but the ASU guys were giving out professional media-trained answers, so it wasn’t really worth trying.
At some point prior to media day, it was suggested to me that I should try and see what other team’s players think of Cal. However, most players were reluctant to single out any player or team positively or negatively, even when talking about their own team. When asked by Mr. EA Sports about what they think they’re teammates player ratings were, you’d get an answer like, “Well I’d give a 99 in speed to… wait a minute, I don’t want to put that on record, the other guys are going to get mad at me.”
Well, on the bright side, I did know there would be a few guys who’d be happy to talk about Cal. Because up next:
(You can find Justin Wilcox’s full speech here: 2022 Pac-12 Football Media Day Press Conference: Justin Wilcox)
Finally, the main event. I was no longer nervous, but excited. Wilcox shouts out his players from the main stage.
“Joining me today we got a couple of our players back here, Matt Cindric, who is a senior offensive lineman, and Daniel Scott, who is a six-year safety for us. Both excellent players and great representatives of the program.“
You can briefly feel the room turn to look in their direction. And with that, questions are underway. Scott and Cindric answer a question about how it feels to be “older guys,” in more of a leadership role. Scott says this is probably the youngest group of guys they’ve had in that room. Someone asks, “Who are some young guys that surprised you?”
Scott: Defensively, Lu [Hearns] again coming in at corner, Collin [Gamble], Isaiah [Young], you got young linebackers, Femi [Oladejo]. You got the the transfer [Jackson] Sirmon coming in, Blake Antzoulatos. Safeties, you got Hunter Barth, Ray Woodie, Miles Williams. And then interior guys, you got a lot of good guys, Ethan Saunders, Ricky Correia, Akili Calhoun, so it’s like I said, they have been eating [?] out their workouts in the summer so I’m excited to see all that hard work pay off.
Cindric: Yeah offense, ton of young guys that have lots of talent, J. Mike Sturdivant is going to be able to play a lot more this year. He’s really, uber talented. Same with Mavin Anderson. And then also [we] got a mid-year guy Jaydn Ott who’s really proved a lot, and is already doing the right things as an early enrollee. So super excited to see what he can do in that loaded running back room.
We get the standard USC/UCLA leaving the conference question. Daniel Scott mentions that as a SoCal kid, he grew up as a Bruin fan, but ever since committing to Cal he’s a Bear forever and he’ll always be a Bear. “It’s a great opportunity for players, wherever they go… Cal’s excited to be here in the Pac-12, Cal’s excited to get the season going… what we like to do at Cal is focus on what we can control.” The reporter presses on about what Scott knew and when he knew it to get another non-answer that was capped with:
…I’m a football player and I’m happy to be ballin’.
Q: What have you seen from Jack Plummer so far?
Cindric: Yeah, he’s a stud. He came in, he’s a good leader, he leads by example, which is always really strong and what you want from your QB. He has a rocket arm, you see it out there. We’ve had some really good quarterbacks in my time, but what Chase maybe had in his running ability, Plummer has that in his throwing ability. Super excited to see what he can do with his arm, he’s doing extra work every day, and he’s already getting in tune with our wide receivers. He really takes command of the huddle, which I really appreciate as a center.
Q: Matt, lot of turnover on the offensive line, just you and Ben Coleman returning. What do you think of the young guys, anyone really going to step up this year?
Cindric: We have 8 guys deep I think who played with the 1s either this past spring, or coming in from a different school, we got 2 transfers too, Spencer Lovell and TJ Sessions. TJ was in the national championship game for Montana State last year in FCS. Spencer was a good rotational player at ASU and is looking to get his opportunity. On the same token, we got Brian Driscoll coming back from an injury who got some serious minutes last year. Brayden Rohme who played left tackle for us when Will Craig got hurt. And then we got Everett Johnson and Bastian Swinney, both uber talented guys, big guys that can really step into that role. As they continue to play, they’ll learn more. Offensive line is the most developmental position definitely out on the field, so as they grow they’ll learn more, and we’ll be really solid.
While other teams were sometimes reluctant to single anyone out, I noticed the Cal guys went in the complete opposite direction and tried to give a shout out to as many players as they could.
Someone asks a question about Covid. Cindric says they grew closer as a team during it, and that some things are bigger than football. Someone asks what’s the most important thing about the Stanford rivalry.
Scott: Keeping the Axe or getting the Axe back. It’s a storied tradition… it’s a football game, it’s one of the 12 games we have this year and we need to win. Keeping that Axe is on the top of our mind.
Cindric: I think the other cool thing is that you’ll be in class all week, professors will be talking about it, students will talking about it, so the buzz about it is just crazy, unlike any other game. When we beat Stanford for the first time in ten years in 2019, we had guys [fans] crying out on the field hugging us, so you see how much it means to the fans and then that helps you in turn kind of realize what it means to you.
The next question came from a guy who I am pretty sure is a UW reporter.
Q: How much interaction have you had with Marshawn Lynch?
Cindric: He’s come around—
Scott: Yeah, he’s come around here and there, every time he comes onto campus it’s a couple big guys and whatnot, we’re really happy to see him, he’s always a character… he’s a funny guy, but he’s highly intelligent, he’s a great man to know, so trying to connect with him, stay in contact with him, you know, got [?] be a little bit of the beast mode.
Next is a reporter who points out that Cal hasn’t beaten Stanford at Memorial Stadium in a while, and asks how important it is to beat Stanford at home.
Spoiler: it’s important.
Someone follows up with: “Do either of you have any red in your wardrobe?”
Q: Daniel, The Takers: Ashtyn Davis, Jaylinn Hawkins, Cam Bynum, Elijah Hicks… you guys always went above and beyond, film study… what are you doing to bring up the next generation of Takers behind you?
Scott: It’s like you said, film study. The big thing we like to preach is to practice like a pro.When you’re watching film, are you not just watching for the pleasure of it, are you trying to have some type of goal, mindset in place. Like you said, you had some great guys in front of us that you got to learn from, but I’m not just the old guy there, you know you got Miles Williams, a couple other 4th- and 5th-years that got to learn from those amazing individuals. You had Josh Drayden, Elijah [Hicks] just in our room last year, and picking their brains has been huge for all of our progress and development as a player.
Another reporter asks how the players enjoy the Bay Area, in particular Oakland:
Cindric: I think the best part about that area is the food. Guys will be going to HotBoys, guys will be going to get food over there all the time.
Scott: Get some tacos—
Cindric: Yeah tacos, Cholita Linda, get some shout outs here. We love Oakland, we love that connection… with some of the teams leaving Oakland, we hope that we can be Oakland’s team.
Scott: Being a SoCal kid, I think we got a bit of a rivalry with The Bay in LA, but you come to learn a lot and enjoy, soak everything in, in The Bay. It’s a unique community, it’s a unique culture, strong culture. It’s been an amazing 5, 6 years for us.
A follow-up food question. In the middle of the question, you can hear Wilcox sign off unexpectedly early over the loudspeakers: “Alright. Go Bears. Thanks.” Well, shoot. There goes my chance to ask Wilcox a question. Anyway, the food question was “Nations or In-N-Out?“
Cindric: Both fantastic burger joints, you gotta get a Double Double.
Scott: I’ll go In-N-Out, but for breakfast, I’ll hit Nation’s every time.
Alex asks a question.
Q: Matthew, you’re on the watchlist for the Wuerffel Trophy. How does it feel to be recognized for your community contributions?
Cindric: Yeah, I think it means a lot. Like I was talking about earlier, it’s more than just football. As you grow and learn things, you realize you can reach out and really make a difference. So, just trying to use my platform to help others and do things in the community that I get a chance to do. So it was a huge honor, alongside with my teammate Trey Paster, so just honored for my name to be even associated.
With things seemingly winding down, I felt it was a good time to ask the question that was itching at me.
Q: Matthew, correct me if I’m wrong, but your first start was in 2019 against UC Davis— (Yep)— you played a huge role the following week with Daltoso and Craig out, as a freshman, and helped Cal beat UW in The Lightning Bowl. So, my question is: which team should be struck by lightning next?
Cindric: Oooh, that’s a great question. I’ll go with— let’s go with UCLA. We’re the #1 public institution, so we’ll strike them down and let them know that we own that title.
Someone asks about Notre Dame. “We’re going to take it week by week.”
Q: Daniel, with Brett Johnson coming back, Xavier Carlton from Utah, anything you’ve seen out of him, how do you feel about the defense and those guys? Better defense next year?
Scott: Yeah, I’m feeling very confident about our group. We’ve added some good transfers with Odua [Isibor], Xavier Carlton like you said, Jackson Sirmon inside, I think we got a little bit of depth this year that will surprise some people. At the same time, we’re always going to be a storied Cal defense, strong, hard-nosed… so we’re excited to get going, that’s for sure. Brett [Johnson] is coming back off his injury, he’s looking great. Xavier came in, and even though he’s a transfer, he’s doing a great job of leading some younger guys too. So, I’m excited, definitely excited.
Someone from behind a camera says “Thanks guys,” to signify that their time is up. As I reach for my voice recorder, I utter a “Go Bears” to which Cindric and Scott echo, but with more gusto. As Cindric walks off-stage, he tells me the lightning question was a great question. I neglect to mention that I didn’t mean “who Cal should beat in an exciting extreme weather game” but that I actually meant literally struck by lightning. I would have also accepted USC as a valid answer.
With my job here technically complete, I consider heading home. I’ve been standing in the same spot for so long, my legs are starting to feel it. Oregon State, UCLA, and USC are the only ones left on the schedule. I know the UCLA and USC sessions will be packed, and I’m not fond of large crowds, but I figure I may as well stick it through to the end. In contrast to my morning, I will reserve my spot in the front row this time.
I don’t believe anyone affiliated with Oregon State was here to cover the players. Oregon State has been improving the past few years and Vegas may finally be giving them some respect (their regular season win total Over/Under is set to 6.5 this year, ahead of both Cal and Stanford), but the media still isn’t. There’s practically no one here, not even bald journalist man to ask a stupid question about the Big Ten, and it makes me feel a bit sad and disappointed in a way I can’t describe. I know I’m probably not going to report on this, but I ask both players a number of questions just to keep things moving along. I ask Luke Musgrave if he’s ever considered playing for his uncle (Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave). If you thought he looked unamused in the above picture, he was even more so after that question. Of course not, he said, Oregon State is his home, and he has great coaches there. I probed their thoughts on other players in the conference, but both were careful to never mention anyone or anything specific. Oh well.
UCLA was up next, and I was expecting a big crowd.
Surely this would be the one where people ask a ton of questions about what they think of UCLA leaving for the Big Ten. You’d think that, but no, not anymore than they asked any other player. The weird part about this one was just how many photographers were here. There were far, far more people taking pictures than asking questions. I again ask some questions out of obligation, even though I know I probably won’t report on it. A reporter mispronounces Stephan Blaylock’s name (Stef-uhn, not Steven). Jon Gaines II is a smart guy, talks about how he got his degree in 3 years (a double major, even) because he wanted to get a Master’s degree as well. After asking a few roster-related questions (they’re high on LT Raiqwon O’Neal and LB Darius Muasau, for instance), I asked what they thought about UCLA losing a historic rivalry game with Cal that they’ve played every year since 1933. Jon Gaines, after deftly and intelligently answering a number of questions, has a stumped look on his face, for a few moments of silence. I realized as soon as the words left my mouth that this was a dumb question for me to ask, and I don’t know why I would ask it. I guess I just wanted to fit in with Mr. Journalist Man. I didn’t get much of an answer more than “things happen,” but what else could you say? I decide to shut up for the rest of the session. Eventually, more reporters come to ask questions. Perhaps they all just had dying questions for Chip Kelly first. (I haven’t watched his Pac-12 interview segment, but I am going to guess a number of them were about the Big Ten).
With that out of the way, it was time for what the Pac-12 schedulers thought was the main event (which as I mentioned, was actually a couple sessions ago). Even though I saw people trickling out throughout the afternoon, it looked like everyone was back in force for USC. What else would you expect for a media day based in Los Angeles?
There were a ton of people filming, and not just the people affiliated (i.e. employed) with the university. I’m positive you could find the whole session on YouTube if you so desired, so I’m not going to bother talking about it in any detail.
What I will say though, is that Caleb Williams definitely left an impression. I had just spoken with athletes all day, and he was different. He even got me believing in USC’s hype, and I never believe in USC’s hype. In fact, I’ve bet against USC in their season opener every single year. They are literally—until last year at least— always overrated (after 10+ years since Pete Carroll, there were no USC fans left still drinking the Kool Aid to push the spread higher, and USC finally beat the spread in their opener last season).
But Caleb Williams is different. If you knew nothing about football and just read body language, you’d assume this is the guy who won it all last year. A quiet, comfortable swagger. While every other Pac-12 player was wearing school-provided polo shirts, here he was sitting in a Gucci jacket instead. USC assembled an All-Star roster via the transfer portal, with a good portion of that coming from other schools in the conference. Stanford’s starting running back last year left to be USC’s third stringer (USC’s first stringer is Oregon’s former starting running back, Travis Dye). I wanted to ask Lincoln Riley about this, but there’s probably a crowd there too, and I’ve already invested too much (by which I mean I literally stood in one spot all day) for my spot in the front here.
Caleb Williams is leading the team with the promise of wins. Just follow me, because we’re going to win. And maybe they do win, all the way to the playoffs and national championship. He uttered the words, “We’re not losers” a number of times. You have to wonder if the team will be able to handle adversity, and if they’ll be able to keep players bought-in if they start hitting bumps in the road. You get the impression that just winning the conference is not good enough for them, they’re expecting to win it all. What happens if they don’t?
There’s a ton of people asking questions, and it’s the most intense game of “who can ask the next question first” yet. I actually do get a question in, not that I really care what the answer is. I’m just happy I finally figured out this whole media game. I am pretty sure I forgot to breathe while asking my question, but hey, baby steps.
And with that, I really am done this time, and I head home. It’s Friday night. I don’t know what I’ll be doing later tonight. The only thing I do know is that I will be doing it sitting down.