Eloquent and wise beyond his years, combined with his stellar play and natural leadership ability, it was no surprise that veteran linebacker Nick Forbes was chosen as one of Cal's representatives in Friday's Pac-12 Media Day at Sony Studios in Los Angeles.
"They call me Grandpa. Grandpa Forbes," said the junior linebacker, with a smile. "That's alright. I still have fun. I still have a good time."
Forbes will anchor a defense that while talented last year, performed poorly much of the season, including getting blasted by mediocre Utah and Oregon State teams in the last month of the season.
After being considered one of the better defenses in the league prior to 2012, does the defense have something extra to prove heading into this year?
"Yes, we do," said Forbes. "Historically, in my time at Cal, we've been pretty good defensively. It was a big dropoff to go from two number one-ranked defenses in the Pac to the middle, if not bottom of the league.
"I feel like we're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to be successful. Also, the offense is getting all this hype this year. You know, 'The Sonny Dykes offense,' That's great and all but we don't want to be a high-scoring offensive team that doesn't play defense because that's not good football.
"We're going to be a fundamentally-sound defense that sticks to the basics and execute the basics very well. Once we do that, I think we'll be able to open up our packages and be very successful but first it takes honing in on the fundamental techniques to be able to be successful."
Observing the Cal staff at work in the spring, there seemed to be a definite emphasis on technique, though that's not to be unexpected with a new staff coming in.
"There definitely is," said Forbes. "Foot placement, yard depth, alignment -are you one inch inside or two inches outside- all those little things do play a big role in a game.
"I think that's one of our faults, previously. The 3-4's a more intricate defense and there's a lot more you need to learn to master it so you can sometimes lose sight of those little things you need to do right and the discipline that comes with it.
"When doing it right, it will put you in a good spot but when doing it wrong, you can get exposed and taken advantage of."
Dykes comes in at Cal with a reputation as an offensive dynamo after turning around a poor Louisiana Tech program and leading the nation in scoring by his third season there.
That reputation also comes with a question of whether or not Dykes placed a priority on defense, with the Bulldogs having given up significant points last season, though the possessed the number one defense in the WAC in 2011 before losing much of their defensive experience to graduation heading into 2012.
"Looking at their schedule and seeing all the 54-50 type scores, I was like, 'Whoa, that's not what I'm looking for,' said Forbes. "We've been a defense-laden team in the past so it's important to us.
"Coach Dykes didn't bring in his defensive coordinator and that's his decision to make.
"Coach Buh's a very sound, fundamentally-oriented, old school football coach, where you've got to play good defense to win games.
"I think the combination of a high-intensity offense with a defensive coordinator that believes in order to win games and play good football, you need to play good defense, it's a very good combination."
Defensive coordinator Andy Buh was known for his intensity as a player, with former Palomar JC teammate and current San Mateo City College coach Tim Tulloch calling Buh "a beast" on the field.
"I would attest to that," said Forbes. "He's very calm and he's a great teacher. He's turned all of us back into students of the game, taking us all the way back to the two original formations in football -pro and slot.
"With the young guys, learning the new system and all, he's been very patient with us. But at times, when we're doing drills and all, you can feel it in his voice -the aggression of a former player.
"I love him as a coach. I can say that wholeheartedly. He's a great man, a great mentor to try and emulate, very respectful. He treats you as a person but when it's time to get down to business, there's no bones about it. There's no cutting you slack here and cutting you slack there. He tells you how it is and that's what you want as a player."
Last season the Bears were dogged with an unnaturally high number of injuries, with projected or actual starters or expected contributors McClure, David Wilkerson, Brennan Scarlett, Chris McCain, Jason Gibson, Vei Moala, Mustafa Jalil, Aaron Tipoti and Keni Kaufusi all missing significant time due to injury. But based on where the Bears are healthwise, that seems sure to change.
"We were a young team and we were an injured team," said Forbes. "Now in time, we've matured and guys are starting to step up and also get healthy.
"I was telling Stefan (McClure), he's a guy that's going to have a big impact for us and that he needs to be a guy that's more vocal for us because he's the kind of guy that's very modest and low-key. His play speaks for him. But I told him, 'Look, you've got to be one of those guys to step up and say it' and he has.
"Those kind of guys like him, Avery (Sebastian), Kam (Jackson), other guys -they're starting to mature. Guys up front are getting healthy. Moose (Jalil) is finally healthy. We're going to have him and Biggy (Deandre Coleman) in the middle along with Brennan Scarlett, Todd Barr, Dan Camporeale, Chris McCain...to have guys like that on the line, we're starting to all mature and we expect things to come to fruition for us.
"We've got good depth and good talent now. Everyone's counting us out of it but as a team, we're coming together and we know where our strengths are and what we can do this year."
The team has been working hard in the weight room since spring practice and by all reports has significantly increased their size and strength.
"Khairi's strong," said Cal receiver Bryce Treggs. "He's really strong. Austin Clark. Freddie's real strong. A lot of big guys are just big and lumpy. Not that fool. I don't don't know how he's going to fit into his jersey. It takes him a legit 30 minutes."
"As far as the LB corps, everyone's getting strong," said Forbes. "We're getting real strong. You're seeing body types changing and younger guys are losing body fat. I like to call it baby fat. They're not babies but they're young and still physically maturing. It's amazing to see the transformation.
"I think Khairi will be tremendous. He's been off the radar for a while with his transfer and injuries but his work ethic and raw talent is phenomenal. And he's been developing his game even more.
"He works real well in space, he's athletic and he's very strong so he'll change the pace for those wideouts out there.
"He's my roommate and the bond that we share will serve us well out there.
Junior linebacker David Wilkerson has been particularly plagued with injuries but he seems to be healthy and fit for the first time in a while.
"He's got the worst luck," said Forbes. "You have to take ownership of how you take care of your body but this kid has just terrible luck. He's healthy and back into it now, though."
"As for the defensive line, Vei's strong. Biggy's strong. The D-Ends -Kragen, Scarlett and others are strong," said Forbes. Todd's been light but he's getting cut and real strong.
"We'll be able to play a very physical brand of football with all our guys healthy and strong. You can look at us and know this is going to be a real stout defense. I'm expecting us to exceed expectations as far as physicality goes."
Beyond the team's gain in strength, Forbes is impressed in the the significant strides they've made in conditioning, as well, particularly since the arrival of strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington in May.
"I'd say tempo is one of the biggest changes," said Forbes. "Our workouts are extremely fast and you get some of the best pumps you've had in years. I remember walking out of the weight room and I couldn't even scratch my shoulder. That's how much we got after it.
"But in every area, there's no walking. If you want to get water in the weight room, you have to jog.
"Every drill's very organized and fast-paced and you move from one to the other quickly. Discipline's instilled in everything we do in the weight room and on the field."
The fact that Harrington was a former player -and a linebacker, at that- gives him a special bond with the Bear linebacker corps.
"He's not hard on anyone," said Forbes. "He's a very fair guy. But he has great expectations for everyone. And as an ex-linebacker, we have a deep-hearted respect for him.
"You can tell he played when he talks to you. He knows what it means when you're out there.
"Not to knock the previous strength and conditioning coach but there was a little bit of a disconnect between what we were going through, what was expected of us and what really goes on. So there's a great respect for him having been a player, himself."
With better health, young and fairly deep talent, new schemes, new coaching voices and an offense that will undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on opposing teams, the ingredients seem to be there for a defensive resurgence. How the unit fares will most likely play a huge role in this season's prospects in Berkeley.