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Football: Espitia finds a home at linebacker

Maximo Espitia played quarterback, running back, safety and punter at high school in Oregon. Since arriving at Cal in the fall of 2012, he has seen time at fullback, tight end, wide receiver and safety.

Now, entering his junior season, Espitia is a linebacker.

“We’re going to stick him there, leave him alone, and hopefully he can find a home,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said after Friday’s 11th of 15 spring practices.

In fact, Espitia has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring ball for the Bears after being moved to his new spot at outside linebacker for the first workout on March 31.

“I know he doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet, but he does some things naturally,” defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said. “Just his movement skills, his reads and being in position as much as anything else.”

Dykes said Espitia has performed at a consistent level through spring workouts and has a solid chance to compete for a starting job next fall.

“That’s definitely something I’ve been waiting to hear,” Espitia said. “Now that I’ve finally heard it, it’s my time to see what I can do.”

Recruited to Cal as fullback then moved almost immediately to tight end, Espitia was basically without a position last fall after coach Jeff Tedford was fired because Dykes’ offense rarely utilizes either position.

He was shifted to a slot receiver position, then volunteered to try safety late in the season when injuries left the Bears shorthanded. Linebacker was another position of need for Cal, and Espitia has picked things up quickly.

“I had concerns about how physical he would be, and he’s answered those concerns so far,” Dykes said.

Espitia knows he must improve every aspect of his game, and would like to add five or 10 pounds to his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame. But he has a position and reason to think he’ll stay there.

“I think I’ve finally found a home,” he said, “somewhere I’m comfortable and coaches are comfortable with me there, too.”

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Another spring surprise has been safety Griffin Piatt, a sophomore walkon from Moraga. Griffin spent last season at wide receiver after snaring 12 interceptions as a senior at Campolindo High.

“He’s had a good spring,” Dykes said. “He was a very productive high school safety so it’s a good fit. He’s starting to play with better instincts, triggering faster. He’s got really good ball skills, he’s got length, can cover ground.”

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Junior running back Daniel Lasco, slowed early in spring ball by a minor hamstring tweak, is now healthy and showing he wants to be the starter.

“He’s vastly improved from where he was last year,” Dykes said. “He’s seeing things better, he’s more comfortable, he’s playing faster. The biggest thing is he’s finishing runs, getting lower. It’s good to see him making progress.”

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Sophomore defensive tackle Jacobi Hunter is taking time away from the team for personal reasons. Dykes said the situation should be resolved by Monday, but wasn’t certain Hunter will rejoin the team.

Jeff Faraudo

  • Juancho

    We get these feel good stories every Spring. I’m learning to not get too excited now. I want this team to be great and the players to have great careers, but this team will be lucky to win 4 games next year. The Pac 12 is loaded.

  • sunshipballoons

    The possibility that a guy who has never played LB before could be starting doesn’t bode well for the D.

    I think the “playing faster” thing with Lasco is key to the offense. Even if the D is good, the Bears are going to give up a lot of points; it’s the way they will be playing. But the offense was a problem sometimes last year too. One of the big things is the quick developing plays in the air raid. Compare that to Tedford’s offense, which gave the players as close to all day as you can get in football. Completing that transition will help the offense immeasurably. I expect the offense to be great next year. Not so sure about the D, though.