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Cal Football

Saffell Made A Good First Impression

August 26, 2018
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 A year ago Micheal Saffell was a typical freshman football player, trying to adjust to a new environment, learn a lengthy playbook and uncertain he would see the field from anywhere but the sidelines during the upcoming season.

A month later he was knocking USC defenders out of the ball carrier's way and keeping them away from quarterback Ross Bowers. Now the 6-4, 300-pound sophomore is entrenched as a mainstay of the offensive line, the most experienced unit on the Bears squad.

"This year, coming into year two, there is a lot more cohesiveness on the offensive line," Saffell said after a recent practice. "Having a lot more fun. Enjoying it a lot more, the game is slowing down. You are a lot tighter with those guys in that room.  We are just having a good time, hanging out, having fun, working really hard, trying to be the hardest working unit on the team."

Saffell, who hails from Huntington Beach, was a center a year ago and a candidate to one day replace the durable veteran Addison Ooms. As one of Ooms backups, the rookie did not plan on playing much in 2017, but injuries to the offensive line forced the Bears to move him first to guard and then into the lineup.

He entered his first game with Cal facing fifth-ranked USC in Memorial Stadium Sept. 23. His first play was a fourth down, and Saffell pulled from his guard slot, knocked a USC linebacker out of the way for Vic Enwere to run for a first down.

He went on to play in six more games, even starting two.

"I think anyone comes in with that mindset that you want to play," Saffell said. "I was fairly under-recruited, I would say, coming out of high school. People told me I was going to come in and redshirt. That maybe I was too small (he was listed at 290 a year ago) and needed more time to develop.

"When I got here, I think I showed the things they needed to see. It was a shock, but I have always had that competitive tough mindset.  I want to compete, I want to perform.  I want to carry that mindset that I want to be great, and work hard."

The almost cliche terminology would have Saffell being "thrown into the fire" last year. But offensive line coach Steve Greatwood says that phrase implies a degree of desperation that  was not there.

"He earned it," Greatwood said. "He didn't’t just get thrown into it. He proved that he was one of our top five or six guys. He earned it in that regard.

"He had never played guard before. With Ooms still at center, I am not going to get him on the field there. .... At guard he has that great explosion off the ball. He just works his tail off and he finishes blocks. Plus he is a great leader out there."

Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin also said he had no qualms about using Saffell in that situation. “It says a lot about his readiness," Baldwin said. "His body came in ready, but more than anything, he showed that he understood the system and was mentally strong enough to not worry about going up against USC veterans in his first action.”

Saffell still shakes his head when he recalls how he broke in.

"The first game against USC, pretty interesting," he said in an enormous understatement. "Kind of our biggest game, afternoon game on ABC, all of my friends texted me that they are going to watch it. And coming back from an injury for a couple weeks, It was awesome. Everything I could hope for.

"Tons of people out here, sunshine, they had a pretty good D-Line there. So it was a little nerve-wracking, but I think I played decent, as good as you can for a true freshman's first game. Was a blessing to be able to get out there."

He credits the more experienced linemen for making his debut as good as it was. "It is a testament to the older guys in the room, just making me comfortable. Taking me under their wing for that duration, helping me be prepared," he said. "The culture that coach Wood has set, everyone being ready to go, and ready at a moment's notice to play. That's a testament to that. I was ready to play."

The veterans liked what they saw. "He’s like a pit bull," Ooms said. "That dude just comes off the ball, and he’s trying to put them on the ground every time. It’s so great playing with a guy like that."

And this year he has improved but has no means reached his ceiling.
"He just keeps growing,"  Baldwin said. "I’m excited about him, because he definitely brings a presence. He brings leadership at a young age, because of how he plays the game and the attitude he brings into practice."

Greatwood agrees.  "He is still honing technique," Greatwood said. "He has a much better grasp of the offense. (He has) anticipation based on what shades and alignments defenses are going to present to him. He  just has a more comfortable feeling with what we’re doing on offense."
For many kids from Saffell's neighborhood, facing USC would be going against a team they formerly rooted for. But Saffell's rooting interest as a youth had an interesting twist.

"I was only an SC fan only when SC played Notre Dame," he said. "Because my dad was a Notre Dame fan and we wanted to start a little rivalry going. I was never really a USC fan. My team was Oregon growing up."

But the Ducks no longer command his  loyalty. "Obviously now I'm a big Golden Bears fan. A fan of the history they have here. This is the best place to be. There is no better spot for academics and sports. Obviously before I was ignorant and now I see the light."

He intends to major in Business, with the goal of admission to the Haas School of Business. "That's the crown jewel," he said. "I never had an idea about business, never intended going into that but I'm a competitive guy land they told me that's the best school and that's what I want to shoot for."

Discussion from...

Saffell Made A Good First Impression

GivemTheAxe
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When I saw him start last year I was not aware that he was a true freshman. At the time I thought he was playing very well for a redshirt freshman.
bonsallbear
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Thank you for the article. Keep them coming.
82gradDLSdad
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I posted this last year, Everytime I watched him in the game (I'm weird during games, I watch the OL thru binocs alot) he looked really good. I think he will be all Pac 12 someday.
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