Reflections on Pac-12 Football Media Day

Chase Garbers and Kuony Deng are looking forward to their final season together in blue and gold.

Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

It felt like a brand new era at the W Hotel in Hollywood as 2021 Pac-12 Media Day began on the morning of July 27. Coaches and players alike spoke of how they missed stadiums full of crowds last season and even live media sessions. Fittingly, the first two players to speak to reporters represented Cal. Quarterback Chase Garbers and linebacker Kuony Deng are inarguably two of the biggest pieces of this year’s squad and they had a lot to say about the season ahead. As the Bears approach their first game against Nevada on Saturday, what should fans expect? The following quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

Glancing backward, looking ahead

Garbers emphasized that while 2020 might have been something of a lost season in the eyes of fans, he appreciated the chance to play especially with another year of eligibility looming on the horizon. The quarterback took a pragmatic approach to keeping his skills sharp during the pandemic, saying: “You had to make it work with whatever you had.” Garbers noted that the team took Justin Wilcox’s advice to “always keep your knees bent” as a flexible approach to changing conditions. He added that he hoped to make some improvements in “accuracy, footwork, just kind of little things like that.” Both players mentioned that they have already graduated.

Garbers hails from Newport Beach which is about 50 miles south of Hollywood. He stated that he felt comfortable in Southern California where he once starred for Corona del Mar High School. Garbers was asked about his brother Ethan, who is a quarterback for UCLA, and responded that he sees him every so often during the summer.

Community health and welfare

When asked about his off-the-field activities, Deng had a lot to say. The defensive star mentioned his advertising campaign with the City of Oakland encouraging residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and “doing the kinds of things that align with your values.” He is also active in the Black Student Union which has undertaken an effort to provide assistance to occupants of homeless encampments. Born in South Sudan before growing up in San Diego, Deng has pointed to the influence of his mother and extended family when discussing his focus on social justice.

In response to a question about the impact of the coronavirus, Garbers noted: “Everyone has to be vaccinated to be on campus. So I believe our team is 100% vaccinated. But you’ve got to do your part as a society, as a citizen. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Name, image and likeness

Kuony has also taken advantage of the new NCAA rules regarding name, image and likeness (NIL) to provide customized videos to fans on the Cameo website. He added with a smile: “There’s one University of California, and it’s in Berkeley.” Deng also credited campus resources including the Haas School of Business with helping him vet potential opportunities. 

Garbers addressed the topic as well: “As we all saw July 1st at midnight, a lot of people started posting partnerships and deals and endorsements. So it has been a great opportunity.”

Team culture

Deng specified that doing the little things can really add up when it comes to getting results: “How do we finish every single drill and workouts. We’ve got to, as the older players and the captains, we have to put that on display every single day. From there, we continue to encourage guys to put in the work ourselves, starts with being an example, just like Coach Wilcox sets an example for us.”

Garbers summed up the attitude of this Cal squad: “We’re kind of that tough team that really no one wants to play. Just cause we're gonna be there all four quarters to the last second.”

Goals

Garbers kept it simple, aiming to “Play more than four games for sure. But you know, just to be able to play football again, we came to Cal not only to be a part of the great academic institution, but to play college football.” Deng echoed that sentiment: “You know, we love the game. So we’re just thankful to be able to have a full schedule.” Deng described the program this way: “I mean, it’s a program of hard work, determination and doing the right things. That’s who we are at Cal. You know, our theme for the offseason was FTJ: finish the job.” In an August 25 interview with Jim Rome, Deng also emphasized the importance of work ethic, stating that he always aims to “be humble to the grind.”

Passing game

Garbers was excited by the team’s depth at receiver coming into the season: “You know, Aidan Lee, Jeremiah Hunter, Justin Baker, and Tommy Christakos had a really good spring. Mason Mangum as well. Those guys have been working their tails off, whether it’s with me in the film room or just in the weight room in general. Justin Baker has gotten a lot faster, that’s something that kind of pops your eyes a little bit. And then now all those guys get more familiar with this offense. I think those guys have got a very big role this year, especially with the veteran wide outs Tre (Clark) and Kekoa (Crawford). I think they’ve got a lot to learn from those guys. I think it’s gonna be a really special room this year.”

Expectations

In asssessing the current roster, Garbers said: “Well, the thing that stands out for this team is at least in the five years since I've been at Cal, it's the most talented team we've we've had, in terms all around talent, and as Coach Wilcox touched on we have a very competitive roster.”

The signal caller was also asked about Cal’s final game of last season, a 21-17 victory over Oregon. He stated: “Not only was it our first win, but it was our first game that season where we kind of had a full roster. But to end the season on a win like that against a very talented team, a top 25 team like Oregon, especially at home is big for momentum.”

Leadership

Deng mentioned the “super-seniors” who are expected to guide this team to the season many hoped they would have in 2020. He and Garbers are certainly in the spotlight as the Bears begin their season on Saturday at home against Nevada. The good news is that the team boasts plenty of other experienced performers including the aforementioned wide receivers, linebacker Cameron Goode and safety Elijah Hicks.