Cal Football: Pac-12 Media Day: Wilcox, Cindric and Sirmon Take the Stage

22-27 minutes 7/20/2023
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - Head coach Justin Wilcox and 6th year seniors Matthew Cindric and Jackson Sirmon took the stage this afternoon at Resorts World in the league’s first media day in Las Vegas.
Wilcox took the stage first, fielding questions from Pac-12 Network personalities Yogi Roth and Ashley Adamson.
The Cal session kicked off with an intro from former Cal star QB Aaron Rodgers with a quick video segment.
Wilcox was first to take the stage and was asked about being one of the senior coaches in the conference.
“Certainly has gone by fast,” Wilcox said. “I didn't even realize it till somebody mentioned it this morning, that it was the second longest tenure. Yeah, this time of year, the excitement's building. A lot has changed in seven years. Once you approach the season, you get to the week before camp, that excitement is the same. Getting back in the building with the players, that first day back, is always one of my favorite days of the year, so I'm looking forward to that.”
Wilcox was asked about how to protect some of the most talented young players on the team, particularly soph running back Jaydn Ott.
“So everybody uses this term where you’ve got to re-recruit your own team,” Wilcox said. “I don't really think of it that way. We want to do the best job in how we treat the players, how we coach them, how we support them, so you're not making some last-ditch effort to try to 're-recruit' them.
“I don't want to speak for Jaydn, but he understands he's going to get treated well, coached well, we're going to support him. There's opportunities to take advantage of with NIL like everyone else in college football. I understand there would be a lot of suitors for a player like Jaydn. We are really glad he's with us. He did a great job as a freshman, and I think he's poised for even a better second year in the program.”
The Bears delved into the portal class at a higher volume this offseason than in previous years and Wilcox was asked about the topic.
“Yeah, we were very active in the transfer portal, as a number of teams were,” Wilcox noted. “We're always evaluating each guy in the transfer portal: A, in terms of their talent, can they help us win; B, are they going to fit in once you get to do the physical evaluation, the football player, get to know them in a really short amount of time, do some background on them, see if they're going to fit in with how we operate, our team; then obviously the academic requirements that they would have at Cal.
“We found a lot of guys we felt could help us win, who would fit in with our program. Ultimately a lot of those guys had other opportunities, but they chose to join us, and we're glad they did. We had a number of them join us in winter, then another seven or eight join us in summer. Glad to have 'em. Those guys will play a big role for us this season.
With the offense stumbling to another unproductive season, the Bears made big changes to the offensive side of the ball, bringing in OC Jake Spavital, OL coach Mike Bloesch and TE coach Tim Plough.
“I thought they did a fantastic job in spring,” Wilcox said of the new trio. :I think one of the challenges that we kind of acknowledge and take on as coaches is how do you most efficiently, prepare your team. In this environment where you're going to have some new faces
in winter and in summer, systematically how do you implement offense, defense, special teams?
“I thought Coach Spav and the offensive staff did a fantastic job of getting those guys up to speed really quickly. Then it's about reps. You still got to practice. Spring ball obviously we got 15 practices worth. Summertime we get some time with them in the meeting room, spend more time with the newcomers.
“I think it was really a pleasure to see how quickly the guys were able to adapt, learn the offense. It doesn't mean it's basic. There's a lot to it. I think it's friendly to those transfers and freshmen, I think that's key in this environment.”
The veteran players in the program have gone through some fairly tumultuous seasons with the way the campus handled covid policy, coaching turnover and more and Wilcox was asked about the impact on the veterans.
“Yeah we've had a number of fifth- and sixth-year seniors, two of whom are here today. We have two guys, I'm going to be honest with you, they're older than about 15 people that work in our building. They're very mature. They're six-year guys. They're both really good players. They're great leaders. They're going to have an opportunity to continue to play after college. I think they see value in another year of playing college football, playing with this team, getting their degree or graduate degree from Cal.
“Again, I don't want to speak for them, but those guys I know, they're great for our team culture, and they set the example for some of these younger guys who have come into your program looking for some guidance from a player. These guys do a really, really good job of that.
After missing defensive stalwart Brett Johnson for the past two seasons, Wilcox was asked how the veteran DL is coming along physically.
“So the defensive line in general, Brett being at the forefront of that, we didn't go heavy into the portal with our defensive line,” Wilcox noted. “Our portal at defensive line was the guys coming back from injury. Brett is a really good football player, really good. He's missed two seasons back to back with injuries, which is tough. A lot of folks would be no judgment on them, but a lot of people, a lot of guys probably wouldn't come back from that. Brett is just a rare, rare breed when it comes to physical, mental, emotional toughness.
“I don't suspect he's going to be any different. I think he's poised for a big year. We're glad he's back. Feeling that presence, not only the players feel it, they know he's a good player, but just literally feeling his presence when he lines up under center is noticeable because the center has a hard time doing anything against him. We're glad to have him back. I know the guys on the team are happy having him playing in front of them, especially at the nose and three-technique position.”
One of the biggest portal additions of the offseason was redshirt soph TCU portal transfer Sam Jackson.
“Sam joined us in the winter,” Wilcox said. “Sam is a dynamic athlete. He is a very, very athletic guy. Sometimes when you say the quarterback is athletic, they think all they can do is run. That's not the case. Sam can throw the ball, he can spin it. He doesn't have a ton of experience, okay? He's still a young player.
“Our goal, my goal, is for him and all the quarterbacks, there's some other guys in that room that we think have ability to be Pac-12 players as well, but to create these game-like situations. A lot of 11-on-11 football in spring, a lot of it. We put the ball down and played a lot. We're going to continue to do that in fall camp.
“We need to continue to see him and the other quarterbacks continue to grow throughout the season. We don't want to hit game one and look in the mirror and say that's who we are. We have to keep getting better every week. I think Sam is a guy that can do that.”
Wilcox was next asked his thoughts on losing Cal Hall of Fame QB Joe Kapp in the offseason.
“Joe had such a story and he's a beloved figure,” Wilcox said. “There will be some moments throughout the season that he'll be recognized. Obviously somebody that is near and dear to the program, to the alumni at Cal.
“Right as we walk out of the locker room, we have a sign up there quoting Joe. We're sad to have lost him, but certainly he will be remembered forever for the Cal faithful, yeah.
Kapp was not the only Hall of Famer lost in the offseason as his father Dave, an NFL Hall of Fame linebacker who starred for the San Francisco 49ers passed away in April.
“Yeah, that's a tough one,” Wilcox said. “I was fortunate to have a role model in the house with me as I grew up. It had nothing to do with him being a football player.
“Anybody who's lost a role model, a parent, I can understand the pain and the sadness. There's also just so much gratitude at the same time. When you realize that you're going to miss somebody every day for the rest of your life, it kind of changes your life.
Again, I have so much gratitude. We've had players who have lost their parents and loved ones. I know people out here have, as well. My heart goes out to them. Again, I have so much gratitude because I was able to get 46 years' worth, so I'm thankful for that.”
Wilcox is a veteran of the Pac-12 having played defensive back for Oregon in the late 90s. He was asked his thoughts about former Oregon DC Nic Aliotti moving him from safety to corner and the coach quipped that he wondered if he was on drugs.
“No, I love him,” said Wilcox with a smile. “I mean, he coached me and our defensive coordinator, Peter Sirmon. Big reason why I got into coaching, guys like Nick Aliotti, Bob Gregory, who is now across the bay at Stanford.
“The people that impact your life, of course they're teaching you to play a game, but really they're teaching you how to be, how to compete, how to try to do things right. That's what it's all about. That's why we coach.
“I was fortunate, like I said before, I had a great role model at home on how to be a humble, hard-working man. Then I had great role models in coaching. Again, all this stuff that we get to do, we're coaching football for a living. It's hard and it's challenging, we get judged on winning and losing. That's what we sign up for. At the end of the day, it's relationships with the players on
the team and the coaches. That is what it's really all about.”
Having coached in the SEC, the Big Ten and in the Pac-12, Wilcox was asked about the differences in the conference.
“Quarterback play, first and foremost,” Wilcox noted. “Even in the last 30 years. But when you look at especially this year, the level of quarterback play and the offensive football, I mean, there's really, really good coaches.
“I think we talked about this, the parity. When people say 'parity', they think that means that's a lower level of competition. This is high-level parity we're talking about, teams that are coached very well.
“In my experience, being in some other conferences, they're great conference, they all have strengths, but the offense, the quarterback play, the coaching is as good as I've ever been around.
Having played with Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon at Oregon a couple decades ago, Wilcox was asked if he ever imagined one day coaching his son at the collegiate level.
“Not really in the plan.” Wilcox said. :That was not the plan at the end of the day. I've known young Jackson, who is getting old now. Known him as long as you can know a person, I guess. Man, he's just done such a great job.
“Somebody asked me earlier, he's a player on the team, and I'm a coach on the team, so that's no different than any other player and coach relationship. But having known him a long time, it is pretty unique, pretty special.
“Peter is coaching the defense and Jackson. Peter is a demanding guy, demanding of all the players on the defense. I would say, if anything, Jackson probably gets it a little worse than others. But he's a heck of a young guy and he's doing a great job for us and we're glad to have him.
Wilcox was asked about the impact new portal transfers can add to a team after having success in their prior programs.
“Yeah, I think adding Nohl (Williams) and Patrick (McMorris), there's a few other guys in there as well, I think competition at the DB position is as steep as it's been. I think that will drive the performance upward.
“We have some returning players that played a lot for us. Adding these new guys is going to make it certainly more competitive.”
“We feel strong about that unit. We also know we're going to play some really good offenses. In order to play good defense, you have to limit the explosive plays, get some one-on-one wins. We're going to ask those guys to do that. I think they can.
Wilcox was also asked about the second of his veteran players here for media day, sixth-year senior center Matthew Cindric.
“Matthew has been with us a long time,” Wilcox said. “I mean, he's just such a smart, hard-working guys, all the intangibles that you're looking for, the leadership qualities.
Very, very mature guy. Very mature. On top of it, he's a really good player. He's a really good
football player. He's got a ton of experience. So being the glue to that unit up front, also a leader of the offense and the team, really couldn't ask for more. When he and ackson both decided to come back for their sixth years, two of the biggest recruits we could have gotten. Just really thankful. I love the guy. He is everything that's good about college football. Excited for him and his sixth year.”
This month, the veteran center helped organize a football camp for young local players with and without physical disabilities.
“I mean, that's just the type of guy that he is,” Wilcox said. “He does this not so they put it on social media or not that we recommended he do it. Matt did this because that's what he believes in. He is, again, a leader. He serves the community, incredibly intelligent guy. That's all him. That's who he is and what he's about. Just couldn't be more proud of him and the other guys that took part.”
Next on the stage were seniors Cindric and Sirmon.
Sirmon kicked things off talking about his decision to return to Cal for a sixth season.
“It's an honor to be here, a great event,” Sirmon said. “A lot more talking than I'm used to. Yeah, it's been great.
“My thought process, the first thing I thought of is I'm not in a rush to be done playing college football. I have really enjoyed playing college football. Then I really enjoy the setup at Cal. I think it's a really unique situation. I really enjoy the team. I enjoy the guys in the locker room. I enjoy the culture. The opportunity to play for your dad is pretty rare. So I want to make the most of that opportunity.
“I think as far as my fit in the scheme, I think I fit well in that scheme. I think I learned a ton in one year, developed a ton as a player and as a person in one year. I was excited to come back and do it again.
Cindric was up next and was asked about losing so many close games last season.
“I think we talked about it for a few years now that we're close. I think we're tired of just being close. We set a culture this off-season that we're going to finish things and do things the hard way, make sure that we win those close games and they go in our favor this year.
“Yeah, just setting the culture from the very beginning this winter. I think it's gone well this summer. Now we have to go into camp with the same mentality so these games go our way.”\
“I think a big thing we're doing right now is our conditioning. Our coach calls it four quarters.
You have to be mentally locked in all four quarters. They're strict on us. If we're not finishing through the line, with the team counted off, they'll send it back. Being more disciplined, things like that. You never know when one rep is going to matter in the game. Just as many player-run practices as we can have, as much team dinners as we can have, to make sure when
we're ready, those moments come, we're locked in and can trust the guy next to us.”
The players were asked about the impact of taking on a significant number of new players from the portal this offseason.
“If you told me in the winter that we were going to have half the roster be new guys, I would have been worried. How it's played out, I think the guys we have new, they've done a fantastic job of buying into the culture. They've all come in and worked their tails off. They're all hard workers and good teammates.
“I think that's credit to the coaching staff. I think they chose guys that they knew would fit into the culture that we built at Cal. So it's really been I think as seamless as you can have it for having 50 new guys. I think fall camp is going to help us gel even more, and I'm excited for it.
The players were next asked to describe the culture at Cal.
“I think it's a unique culture,” Cindric said. “We have a really good locker room of guys who want to be really good on the football field but also want to be good at life. I think breeds competition in everything we do, which is really fun. Yeah, we just have a bunch of guys who really care about each other. They've come in and, like Jackson said, meshing together. It's an opportunity to have 50 new friends, as I say. Coming together the best as possible. The coaches have done a great job of recruiting guys that really fit with that culture.
Cindric was next asked about his Golden Buddies program.
“It was something I'd done in high school, working with that community. I knew if I was going to come back for a sixth year, I had to do something beyond myself. I had a little more time, a little less class. It was really a cool opportunity to work with kids with disabilities, give them a voice. Football can be exclusive at times, so just wanted to make it more inclusive for everybody.
“With the Cameron Institute at Cal with student-athlete development, they were huge in helping me put it on. That's why I love Cal, it's more than just football for us. Had an amazing event last Saturday, super grateful for all the kiddos that came out. Had a great time. Had over 30 volunteers from our team, which was just incredible for college guys to donate three hours of their time. Hopefully, we can continue Golden Buddies for years and years to come.
“ I had a kid say, I don't want to leave. That was maybe the cutest thing a kid has ever said to me. I think he had a good time. I hope most of the kids felt that way.
Cindric was asked about his biggest takeaway from his time so far at Cal.
“I think the biggest thing you learn over your years is you can't be what somebody else wants you to be,” Cindric said. “As a young guy coming in, there's a lot of great leaders on the team, you want to mimic them. Over the years, I've come into myself as who I want to be as a leader, as a person. Hopefully, I've achieved being a unique individual, a unique leader on the team.”
“For the second part of that, I'm really happy I'll get another chance to play in the big game,” Sirmon noted. “Last year was a fun one, my first one. I was able to learn all the history behind that game. Memorial Stadium was sold out. It was rocking. It will be fun to see what the Big Game looks like at a different venue.
“Yeah, I mean, that was a really fun game, entertaining, down to the wire. I'm excited to get another one, yeah.”
Sirmon was also asked about his gamechanging fumble return for a touchdown in the win.
“Yeah, I remember it being one of the weirdest plays I've ever been a part of Sirmon said. :They were in wildcat. The quarterback took the snap, just started running the ball. Daniel Scott wrapped him up, made a great play, forced the ball out. Jeremiah Earby, our freshman corner, picked it up, and he started running down the sidelines. The quarterback made an incredible play.
“It really is almost unfortunate for him because he made an incredible effort. Popped the ball back out. I was following Earby because I thought I was going to run with him into the end zone. It popped out in front of me. Picked it up. All I did was not mess it up. I just picked it up and ran,
scored. The whole time I remember thinking, This is going to get called back. There is no way this is actually going to count just because of how weird of a play it was. It was pretty fun.
“It was my first touchdown since freshman year of high school. We talked about this yesterday. My high school coach, I played tight end in high school. He always had a joke that I was allergic to the end zone. I got tackled on the 1 line a few times in high school. He was the first person I texted after the game to let him know I scored a touchdown.”
With so many professional programs departing from the east bay, the players were asked if they saw an opportunity to build a new fan base for fans looking for local sports entertainment.
“Yeah, for sure,” Cindric said. “We want to make Cal football the team of the East Bay. We definitely have that opportunity this season, especially coming out with the home opener like Auburn is a really exciting opportunity. So, yeah, when we win games, people will show up. So
our goal is to just win as many games as possible, get that stadium rocking.”
The players were asked about what some of the biggest differences they’re seeing in the new offense under OC Jake Spavital.
“Yeah, just from a defensive perspective, it's completely different,” Sirmon noted. :It really changes how you play defense, how you're going to play third down different. They do a good job of running problem plays. They make sure to put at least one defender in conflict at any play. You never know when you're going to be that defender. It keeps you on your toes.
“With a quarterback that can run the ball, that adds a whole 'nother layer of difficulty to trying to stop it. It seems like -- I think Matthew can talk more to this, but it seems like they picked it up well. The offensive staff has done a good job installing it. It was challenging right out of the gate.”
“It's been fun,” Cindric said. “Coach Spavital came in, a lot of energy. All of us remember watching Davis Webb and the boys back then tearing it up. Yeah, we were real excited to get into it. It's just fun to play fast, fearless. We do what we do and we do it well.
“As an O-line, I can really speak to just the fact that we can play open and free. He lets us play to our strengths, which is really important.”
Sirmon was asked about what he’s expecting to feel going back to Seattle where he started his collegiate career when the Bears take to the road to take on the Huskies.
“I'm not typically a super emotional guy,” Sirmon said. “I'm sure it will feel a little different than every other game. Every game is important. Every game, you got to take it really serious. When you look at the schedule, there's a couple logos that stick out a little more than others.
“It will be special. It will be interesting. I've had a lot of practices in that stadium, played a lot of games in that stadium. It's a cool venue. They do a good job. The fans, they get it loud. I'm excited to go back. It will be a fun game.”
In the last meeting in Seattle, Sirmon’s father was on the losing end of the battle when Sirmon was involved in a game-changing tackle and forced fumble in the Huskies win in OT.
“Yeah, before every Cal-U-Dub game, we'd meet before the game like, ‘Hey, good luck. Yeah,
you too, call good plays, or something, you make tackles.’
“After the game, one of us is always bummed out. The conversations are pretty short.
“I was in on that last play, the last year I was at U-Dub. I remember being excited. I went up to my dad after the game like, ‘Dad, I think I might have made that play.’ He was like, ‘Oh, good job. He was just super upset about losing the game.”

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