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Cal Football

Bear Insider Video: Offensive Guards Valentino Daltoso & Mike Saffell

August 30, 2018

Sophomore offensive guards Mike Saffell and Valentino Daltoso are part of a rarity in collegiate football -an offensive line that returns it's top seven players completely in tact.

Daltoso transferred to Cal from Oregon last summer, following former Duck offensive line coach Steve Greatwood down to Berkeley, earning a scholarship with the Bears in the process.

After earning 2nd Team All-State honors at Boise High School in Boise, Idaho as a senior, Daltoso accepted a preferred walk-on position at Oregon and started in their spring game as a true frosh after redshirting before deciding to transfer to Cal.

Saffell bulled his way into the starting lineup for a pair of games last season as a true freshman while playing in five others with his quick grasp of the offense and his unfailing tenacity on the field. He was one of only four true freshmen to play last season.

The 6-3/300 OG arrived at Cal after playing varsity for Edison/Huntington Beach each of his four seasons, earning Offensive Lineman of the Year his junior and senior seasons as well as 1st Team All-State as a senior.

The fact that the offensive line returns so much experience is not lost on either player in terms of the potential impact it could have on the team this season.

"It's awesome having all five back and even some of the other guys.  I mean six or seven back, really.   A lot of people have been playing together and stuff.  I think it's really helped us gel and just be able to work together on a lot of things that maybe last year we wouldn't have been able to do," said Daltoso.

"Right," said Saffell. "And especially moving into game week and just things being accelerated and being able to play fast, it just helps you to advance the offense and implement a lot more before game week comes so you're not scrambling for anything.  And the cameraderie of this group is like nothing I've ever seen before.  It's a group like I've never been a part of before.  So it's really an exciting time in Cal O-line."

Last year, the Bears returned just two starters in center Addison Ooms and left tacklet Patrick Mekari. They've both played big roles in helping the line to gel.

"Val came from Coach (Great)Wood's system, so he was kind of breaking me in as well, helping me out before even coming in as a new guy," said Saffell.  "But just having two experienced guys like Addy and Patrick who are so willing to help and so willing to make this a great offensive line and help the young guys.  Not to shut them out, but realize that we have to bring them along, as well as the older guys.  

"It was just a blessing as a true freshman to come in when you're a little nervous to play or you're a little nervous to step out on the field  for the first time as an 18 year old.  You have some grown men out there that are really excited for you and just help you out.  It takes away any nervous energy or any anxiety, so it's really a blessing to have guys like that."

"I think they're definitely a lot more vocal this year, as well," said Daltoso.  "I mean they've been through it a lot more than anyone else in our position group, so they're a calm presence out there a lot of time. Pat more than Addy, but it's just nice to have them out there.  They know what they're doing, they've been around it."

Cal offensive lines have been known as one of the more cerebral units on the team each season. Do the soph guards agree?

"A hundred percent," said Saffel, with a smile. "I think we like to use that against the D-line a lot.  Make a lot of intelligence jokes, so we take a lot of pride in that and hopefully the grades this semester show it, so we're trying."

Asked about the strength of fellow guard Daltoso," Saffell had glowing reviews.

"I think Val's an incredibly intelligent player," said Saffell.  "Kind of one of the things that I admire about him is for just being able to key alignments and keep accurate alignments and things like that and be able to play fast within that is awesome.  Pass protection, I think he's one of the best, especially in the Pac-12.  Just as a guard, he rarely loses, so that's something I really respect. Always plays with a great base and can drive guys off the ball, which is what you need at the guard position."

Daltoso echoes the praise with Saffell.

"Mike is awesome," said Daltoso.  "He's really, really aggressive, always flying off the ball, wanting to rock somebody, kind of get that pop and stuff, and really sets the tone for the group as a whole a lot of the times.  Just like, we're going to run it straight down your throats and Mike's definitely leading the pack a lot of times.  And just the willingness to work on the technique.  

"He's really technical.  He doesn't have the length on some guys, but he's very technical in pass pro and stuff and is really, really solid all the way around."

What are some of the duo's favorites things about playing O-line?

"I think the best thing about linemen is when all five are firing on all cylinders, it's kind of unstoppable," said Saffell. " You know, O-line I think more than any other group, can take over a game very easily.  And we kind of set the tide of the game.  And also I really enjoy the cerebral part of it, like you were talking about.  Being able to bounce questions off guys.  

"Me and Val after every play, almost every series we're talking about alignments and things we saw out there.  After practice, talking about technique and we watch film as a group every day, so that's been really helpful to advance as a group.  Just having five guys that you can bounce questions off and we're all in the same mindset, same goals, so it's really fun."

"I guess kind of going off what he said, when everyone is clicking and stuff and you got a defense on their heels, you know, you're running the next play.  You're able to set up and you're just running it, I mean it's a pretty good feeling," said Daltoso.

Both players know what they have in the high level of expertise in veteran offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who led the Oregon running backs corps to the #1 ranking in the Pac-12 ten straight years before coming to Cal.

"The attention to detail, it's there," said Daltoso, starting his third season with Greatwood.  "I never get too excited after I think I have a good practice or a good game, because we break down every single play.  It's your technique, every single play.  It's, did you step there?  Did you have the correct footwork?  Like you could kind of make the block, but he wants you to make it the right way every time so you could build habits.  So I think that's the biggest thing.  Just like the attention to detail and what he expects out of us as a position group.  Like we can't have off days."

"I think the great thing about Coach Wood is, as much technique and things like that that you can coach sometimes, you've just got to get after them," said Saffell. "Sometimes you just got to get after the defense and he really just respects the effort it takes and the aggressiveness it takes to play O-line.  And to go off that, as well as playing within ourselves.  So as aggressive as the game gets or as heated as the game gets, we're still playing intelligent. We're still keying our alignments, knowing the calls, playing as a unit and never getting in over our heads."

Always loathe to praise their defensive counterparts, Saffell and Daltoso nonetheless singled out some who have stood out in camp on D.

"I think especially in the run game, Luc Bequette,  we've had some good battles this fall camp, especially," said Saffell. "We're two aggressive players who really find the love for the run game and that's where we're trying to set the tone.

"It's been a fun fall camp.  I think the offensive line and defensive line really respect each other. As chippy as it's gotten and as frustrated as we've gotten with each other, we're really excited to see those guys perform.  Tevin Paul has had a great camp.  Zeandae (Johnson) coming back, those guys. 

"Just speaking of the guys inside, obviously (Evan) Weaver and Jordan (Kunaszyk) playing linebacker, flying around, they're doing a great job.  And as frustrated as we are with them and as frustrated as we get after 18 practices, now I think it is, so excited to see that defense fly around and make some plays, because they are a tough defense to crack and we've had our hands full all camp."

The DL has more depth than they've had in recent years and it's showing up in many ways during fall camp.

"Yes, definitely," said Daltoso. "I mean they go more than just three guys up front and they are able to be effective.  And they have so many different packages and stuff that they do.  They've got different guys that are good at specific things, so it's really hard to key in on what they're doing all the time.  I think that really helps them out.  I think it's going to confuse a lot of teams this year.

The team seems to have a quiet confidence on the field, knowing that they have bigger and better things in store this season.

"I think we've kind of known it, especially since the loss after UCLA," said Saffell.  "Just realizing the guys that we had coming back.  The core unit that we had, especially on the O-line.  But several other position groups have a ton of experienced leaders.  So I think we're really excited for that, just personnel-wise.  But we really set the tone in winter workouts and coming into spring.  

"This second spring was so much more fun because the offense was already implemented, the defense was already implemented.  So it was just reviewing everything and being able to play fast and kind of hone in on technique.  So all that combined and just the mindset and the culture that Coach Wilcox and Coach Becton are establishing here.  Just having guys like that to fit into those roles and to fit into that culture, it makes for a special time in Cal Football, for sure."

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