HOLLYWOOD — He’s entering year five with California and has put together a 21-21 record thus far.
Justin Wilcox has seen the ups and downs as a head coach in the Pac-12 and feels he has paid his dues. Going 11-20 against conference opponents is nowhere near where Wilcox feels the Golden Bears should be under his leadership. However, he believes his roster is stronger than ever approaching fall camp next Thursday. And rightfully so.
California returns a plethora of studs, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Chase Garbers has been the starter over the past three seasons and has thrown for 4,049 yards, 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions during that span. He also has 718 career yards on the ground and seven rushing scores under his belt.
The Golden Bears’ offensive line with be the strength of the unit, even with the retirement of Michael Saffell. There’s also plenty of pass catchers for Garbers to spread the ball around to, and he completed all five of his passes in California’s spring game.
On defense the Golden Bears have a game-changer at every level. Not to mention California finished third in the conference in total defense. Linebackers Kuony Deng and Cameron Goode form two of the best duos in the league. Deng is the teams’ leading returning tackler and Goode earned All-Pac-12 last season. Ball hawking safety Elijah Hicks is the enforcer of the secondary.
All of the experience across the roster is why Wilcox is feeling so optimistic about the Golden Bears’ 2021 campaign.
“The veterans specifically, they understand what it takes, they’ve been in the fire and they’ve played a lot of reps,” Wilcox said. “What we’re looking for is consistency in our performance and that starts with how we approach the off season.”
The 44-year old coach is excited for his players and their NIL deals. Wilcox feels the Golden Bears’ student athletes will have several opportunities because they reside in the Bay area. California’s athletic department even put together a resource program aimed at helping players with NIL called Golden. It’s going to be centered around guiding and educating Golden Bears with their contract negotiations.
“I think it’s going to be months, maybe a year before it really sorts itself out, but I think it’s long overdue,” he said.
As for on the field, Wilcox is certain his squad has improved over the past six months. They all bonded by having a long, close spring workout period. Strength and Conditioning Coach Brian Johnson helped the team build up their bodies over the summer.
Everyone is hungry, confident and motivated. The Golden Bears’ shortcoming are now in the rearview mirror. Wilcox knows his leaders aren’t going to let this team underachieve. Beating the Pac-12 Champs in the last game of the season gave the team momentum and they’re ready to ride that wave into fall camp.
“We got a very competitive roster, we have a lot of experience coming back with nine super seniors,” Wilcox said. “There are a number of young players we have high expectations for.”