The path that Cal linebacker/defensive end Chris McCain has taken to this point at Cal has been anything but a straight one so far. A delayed admission with a greyshirt in 2010
to shore up academic issues, regular academic struggles his first 2 1/2 years in the program, a steady stream of injuries -including a torn labrum that he came in with from high school and only got repaired following the 2012 season, a confrontation and frequent clash with the former strength and conditioning staff, inability to add or keep on weight -all combined to limit McCain up to this point and keep him from reaching his potential.
The crisis reached a head after McCain's continued clashes with former head strength and conditioning coach Mike Blasquez in the spring as well as deficient academic performance that left him on the verge of ineligibility.
"I was told not to lift because of my shoulder injury," said McCain in the spring. "I partially tore my labrum in my junior year, then completely tore it against Southern Utah.
"I really haven't been able to lift weights since my junior year in high school. I needed to have surgery but really didn't want to do it. Blasquez and the coaches were always after me for being so skinny but I couldn't do a lot about it and I felt disrespected by him because of a lot of the things he said and did.
"I also had my worst semester in the fall and that's not what I came here for."
Much to the delight of Cal fans, not to mention his teammates and coaches, much has changed in the past few months as McCain heeded his wakeup call.
"Chris is coming along very well," said linebacker Nick Forbes. "He's put on a lot of weight. It seemed like it was impossible for him to gain weight for the longest time.
"I told him, 'Look, you come eat with me a couple times and I'll show you how it's done.' I never ate a meal with him but he finally started bulking up. He's putting a lot of extra work in the weight room.
"The last time I talked to him a couple weeks ago, he was around 245. He's stout now."
So what changed for McCain?
"He wised up, really," said Forbes. "That goes back to maturity. I think we're really going to pay it forward with all our work this year."
Cal head coach Sonny Dykes concurred regarding McCain. After laying down the law and all but removing McCain from the team in the spring, McCain has responded to expectations and is both healthy and in much better academic standing following his first summer session.
"Chris had some academic work to do over the summer," said Dykes. "So he got the academic stuff he needed to do the first session this summer done. But he still has some stuff to do this session to continue to get himself in a good situation."
And beyond shoring up his academics, McCain seems to be more fully-engaged with the restructuring that's taken place since Dykes arrived and brought in new strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington in May.
"His attitudes been great," said Dykes. "He's been much more consistent in his approach.
"Chris would have a good two weeks then a bad week then a good two weeks then a bad week but he hasn't had any bad weeks (for a while).
"He's been there on time. He's been there with a smile on his face. He's worked hard on his academics. He's been a good teammate. So we're expecting big things from him."
McCain's academic struggles epitomize what so many young athletes go through coming into top academic institutions to play a sport -a full-time job in itself.
Not only do the players have to make significant time management adjustments when they arrive on campus but they have to work hard and buy into the fact that they're true student athletes rather than simply football players that can skate by and do whatever they want.
For some like McCain, that message takes longer to sink in. Some get taken to the brink of dismissal and some never make it all all.
"I think part of it is just those guys believing that you're prepared to move on without them," said Dykes. "Because these guys have been told since they were 12 years old how good they are, how special they are and you're going to play in the NFL and all this.
"Part of it is these guys needing to understand that they're just college students who are trying become starters on a football team. All the other stuff happens after that. If they're not going to do well academically, they're not going to be there. That's the way it is.
"So that's a process to get some guys to understand that.
"With Chris, we just said, 'Okay, fine. If you're not going to do what we want you to do, we'll take football away. You have to figure out what buttons to push sometimes. And the big thing is those guys believing, 'These guys actually mean it.' I think Chris got that message that we were prepared to move on without him. And as a result, he stepped up.
"I think he's in a good spot, with everyone else right now. Assuming he takes care of his academic stuff, he'll basically reset the bar."
Good news for the program and Cal fans alike.