Publication Date: Wednesday, August 14, 2002|
Taking his best shot
Taking his best shot
(August 14, 2002) Klotsche hopes to end career at Cal on a winning note
by Rick Eymer
Palo Alto High grad John Klotsche might not have been able to forgive himself had he not given Pac-10 football at least one shot.
The California coaching staff gave him the chance, and it's been a pretty good match ever since.
Klotsche (6-0, 235) enters his senior season at Cal as the incumbent starter at middle linebacker. Not only was he the team's top tackler last year, but he's also the most experienced returning linebacker.
"I still feel like I haven't solidified anything," said Klotsche at the annual Bay Area media day. "That's how I put pressure on myself. I can't take my starting role for granted."
Klotsche is joined on the Bears by fellow locals Chase Lyman (6-4, 210) of Los Altos Hills, who returns for his junior year as a wide receiver and Menlo Park resident Jonathon Makonnen (6-0, 175), a wide receiver transferring in from San Francisco City College.
Ever since leaving Palo Alto High in 1998, where he was a three-year starter and earned first team Central Coast Section honors his senior year, Klotsche hasn't taken anything for granted.
He could have taken the safe road and played for an Ivy League school while working toward his degree in mass communications. But something told me he might regret not playing at the highest possible level.
"Deep down I knew I could play at this level," said Klotsche. "When I was first deciding between the Ivy League and here, I wondered whether to go for the education knowing I could play in the Ivy League, and always questioning whether I could play. I finally decided I had to give it a shot."
Instead of a guaranteed job, Klotsche took the tougher road and walked on at Cal. He spent his first year as a redshirt and the next season playing on special teams.
"I know some of the guys I played with in high school had a tough time when they tried to walk on in college," said Klotsche. "You could tell a difference between a walk-on and a scholarship player. But this school has been very good. You don't see that difference at Cal. Sometimes guys don't even know that you're a walk on. Everybody gets a fair shot."
That turned out to be a good thing for Klotsche, who showed the Bears he could still play some football. He participated on all six special teams and was named Cal's Special Teams Player of the Week twice.
Until he changed helmets this season, Klotsche was also known for drawing blood during every game and at every practice. He used to wear a helmet that would jam into the bridge of his nose, cutting the skin every time he tackled somebody, or jammed his helmet into the ball.
"I bled through the season," he said. "That caused a lot of problems in practice. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it at least a little bit."
Klotsche also had to decide between becoming a linebacker or a fullback, a position in which he excelled at Paly, where he gained over 1,200 yards. In the end, he decided he'd like to be more than a glorified blocking back.
Again, he made a wise choice.
During his sophomore season, Klotsche opened the year as a starter, but then was sent to the bench. He had to work himself back into the lineup, which he did after blocking a punt to set up a touchdown against Arizona State.
He's been nothing short of sensational ever since. His signature contest came against host Washington on Oct. 21, 2000. All he did that day was record 12 tackles, including five unassisted, two tackles for a loss, and a sack. Oh yeah, he also recovered a fumble and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown which gave the Bears a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
He started all 11 games last year, leading Cal in tackles three times. He was also named to the Pac-10 All-Academic second team.
"It's not something that really expected to happen," said Klotsche. "It feels good and I try to enjoy it. I want to keep working hard because I feel like with a new coach, I'm essentially starting over from square one."
Cal isn't expected to do too much despite having 18 returning starters, the most of any Pac-10 team this year. The Bears finished 1-10 last year, beating only Rutgers in their final game of the season.
Tom Holmoe left and Jeff Tedford arrived. Tedford was at Pac-10 champion Oregon last year and has spent his 14-year coaching career devising wide-open offenses.
Of course, no matter what Cal does this season, it won't appear in a bowl game this season due to NCAA rules violations. That doesn't keep the Bears from looking toward the future.
"That's only an obstacle and we have to move past that," said Klotsche. "Our No. 1 goal is gaining respect in the Pac-10. It's been frustrating, but we have to turn all that negative energy to our advantage."
Klotsche hopes that energy starts changing when the Bears open their season on Aug. 31 with a home game against Baylor.