There have been many student athletes that took unexpected or unconventional routes to Cal over the years but few more inspiring than incoming junior transfer defensive back Antoine Albert.
Growing up in Oakland, Albert didn't have the most stable of situations, with his family frequently struggling after his father left home. They ended up losing their house, though Albert was always surrounded by love in a neighborhood full of friends and relatives, who essentially helped raise Albert and his brother while his mother worked.
Albert also struggled with a genetic speech impediment, inheriting the stutter that plagued his mother and brother, though his mother has largely been able to overcome the impediment.
Albert also struggled in school, though he was never on the verge of failing. He simply lacked the confidence and the wherewithal to believe that he could succeed when the world around him told him he fell short.
Maybe he did but he never gave up, moving on to star at Pleasant Hill's Diablo Valley College, earning accolades as a Top 100 junior college recruit, sparking a battle for his services with over 15 offers while earning a 3.2 gpa.
As the light came on for Albert and he began to realize and accept through the guidance recieved from coaches, mentors and family and through hard work and mental focus, he refined his talent on the field and stepped up in the classroom, including tackling his speech impediment head on by signing up for a speech class right away, unprompted.
"It just kind of fits who Antoine is, that he's going to UC Berkeley," said DVC head coach Mike Darr. "He's a young man that came out of a tough area and there's always challenges that go along with that.
"There are always challenges to anyone that goes to college but challenges for a young man with a speech impediment -you kind of put all that together and you have Antoine.
"He's a young man that came in and didn't shy away from any of the classes. We set guys up to be in the right classes but on his own, he signed up for a speech class his first semester here, just kind of wanting to fight that challenge.
"It's kind of who he is as a football player, not afraid of whatever you put in front of him. But he did the same thing in the classroom. He's willing to put in the work to overcome whatever challenges there are."
"In high school, I was always kind of easing my way past," said Albert. "I did C to B range work. I didn't put as much effort as I am now because I now realize that school will always stick with you past sports.
"That was a huge thing when I signed (with Cal). To be able to play for and go to school at what I'd say is the top school ever, is huge."
"I think early because of his speech issue, he might've been in a shell a little bit," said Oakland Tech assistant coach Virdell Larkins, Sr -father of former Cal defensive back and new Oakland Tech head coach Virdell Larkins. "Once he started coming out of it and realized the talent that he had, with the grade issues, it was probably a little too late but talent-wise he picked up. He had to go to jc route because of grades.
"Now, he's just confident. That's how we trained him. We train the kids for life. So any situation you go through, whether it's school, whether it's sports, you have to be trained for life and every situation.
"He's one of those kids that took it and embraced it and has found success."
Everywhere you go, everyone who's been associated with Albert has nothing but respect and admiration for the inspiring young man.
"Antoine was an outstanding student athlete at Oakland Tech," said track coach Noah Hinkston. "He was one of the hardest workers on the team.
"At first, we couldn't understand him. I went and met his family and he comes from an outstanding family.
"The teachers here really worked with Antione.
"It's just a miracle. I'm so proud of Antione being at the University of California. He's a great young man and an outstanding citizen who will do wonders at Cal.
"I'm just so proud and happy I had the opportunity to work with him."
"At school, I had to make huge strides," said Albert. "My head coach always told me that school is very important, that I would need to pass classes to get where I want to go and to learn, as a man. It really helps me."
Though he may have started slowly academically, Albert thrived in the more academically-demanding environment at DVC, considered one of the top academic junior colleges on the West Coast.
"He was a good kid that worked hard," said former Oakland Tech head coach Delton Edwards, who also coach former Cal and current NFL great running back Marshawn Lynch. "It just took him a while to mature.
"Some kids are slower developers and his learning disability set him back a bit. Then once he started growing and seeing his self-esteem grow, it made him a better kid, a better student and a better football player."
Is Edwards proud to see Albert continue in Lynch's footsteps?
"You know what? As long as they continue in school, whether it's Cal, UCLA or wherever," said Edwards. "But we get to continue watching him at Cal. Plus we get to continue to give him moral support. That's one of the reasons he picked Cal, because of family support. And if he has difficulties at Cal, we can always be there for him.
"He used to get frustrated a lot of times but I'm kind of proud of him because he never gave up.
"He's one of those kinds of kids that's persistent on stuff and he's going to nag you till he gets it."
Albert grew up attending Lynch's Family First football camp every year and now it's come full circle, with the future Bear back on the Oakland Tech campus coaching campers himself last weekend.
"Antoine's a great kid -a real people person," said Lynch. "I'm expecting big things from him."
As for what Cal fans can expect of Albert as a Bear?
Albert noted that early on he's running with the 1's, competing with sophomore cornerback Darius Allensworth for the starting position with his brand of hard-nosed, man-to-man defense.
"Antoine's signature is always, 'Lock-down,'" said Larkins, crossing his arms in a lock-down X. "You'd watch 'Twoine and he'd cross his arms and we'd go man-to-man. I'd call a zone and he'd look at the sidelines and go, 'Coach Fell (Larkins' nickname), lock-down!' Even with his speech difficulties, he knew how to say that no problem. So we'd switch up the defense.
"It's just amazing where he came from, how he honed all his skills and put it together coming out of high school, to DVC and now to Cal. It's just a blessing to watch him. And he's so excited. I can't even describe it."
"He's a unique young man in many ways, including athletically," said Darr. "He's a young man with the skills that he possesses and with how physical he is, we were able to play him as a freshman as a Sam backer over a tight end sometimes. We played him as a defensive end in one of our schemes, when we needed more athleticism.
"He's got the skill set to become a safety. With the schemes a lot of teams are running these days, he could be a slot defender and force the run and play the flat or blitz off the edge. And what we used him a lot for was to be that big, physical corner that loves to press, with great upper body and lower body independence, where he's able to use his hands and still keep his hips and feet ready to turn and go.
"He's just a really unique player that can fill a lot of different roles for Cal."
And now, Albert is is the early stages of living his dream, on campus taking classes in summer session, just 49 days from kickoff against Grambling at Memorial Stadium.
"Academically, I can see me always going higher and higher because now I realize that school is very important," said Albert. "And no one can take away your education.
"And sports-wise, I think that I can always get faster and stronger.
"I can see continuing to improve by huge steps."
Judging by his ever-present smile and his air of confidence despite all he's overcome, one would be wise not to bet against this inspirational young man.
To view Albert's interview video, with clips from coaches and family, use the embedded viewer below.