Among those whose health endured through last season, perhaps no Cal defensive player had a more difficult experience than Cameron Walker.
When Cal opened its 2013 season against Northwestern, the freshman cornerback was in street clothes watching from Section QQ at Memorial Stadium.
Two weeks later, he was on the field, playing safety against Ohio State.
“Out of respect for him, I’m not going to talk about last year,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, only half-joking.
Walker will be a starting cornerback Saturday when the Bears open their season at Northwestern, a year after injuries forced the coaching staff to burn his redshirt year and play him out of position.
Walker did the best he could, but sometimes the job involved being run over by a fullback or tight end boasting a 60-pound weight advantage.
“Just the physical difference from a 160-something-pound, 17-year-old to grown men out there,” Walker recalled of the physical mismatch he faced. “After this whole year, with strength and conditioning, I feel like I’m one of them now.”
Now a 180-pound sophomore, Walker is regarded as the Bears’ best corner.
“He’s much more comfortable playing that corner spot,” Dykes said. “All that experience he got last year will help him. The game will be a little more simple.”
Funny thing is, Walker said he often pestered his coach at Loyola High in Los Angeles to let him try safety. A case of be careful what you ask for?
“It was a perfect example of that,” he said.
Still, Walker had 65 tackles — second-most on the team — along with three pass breakups.
“It was a position he’d never played and he did a great job,” Dykes said. “He was incredibly unselfish, never complained.”
Junior team captain Stefan McClure, who brings 195 pounds to the safety position, said Walker impressed his new teammates last fall. “It’s a real tribute to his heart, to his character, that he was willing to do whatever,” McClure said.
Left tackle Steve Moore, part of an offensive line that hopes to demonstrate it’s tougher and stronger, said it’s almost comical watching game tapes of his team from last season.
“It’s like, `Wow, we were doing that stuff?’ ” Moore said. “Sometimes I don’t even want to watch it.”
Moore said he and his teammates can’t wait for Saturday.
“I have more anticipation for this game than any other game in my life. I’m so ready to go. The team’s ready to go,” he said. “We just can’t wait to play them.”
Dykes said cornerback Darius White (shoulder) and safety Avery Sebastian (quad) both would be part of the Cal travel party on Thursday, although how much either will play is uncertain.
Cal will practice at Northwestern’s Ryan Field on Friday, then watch “When the Game Stands Tall,” the new film about De La Salle High’s football program.
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