When a football team returns to the field for the first time since the death of its star player, defenders sometimes try to remember the best moments from that lost season.
For the players at Cal, the answer came naturally: a 2012 game against Stanford.
Sophomore defensive back Bryce Love, a star receiver who was out with a serious knee injury at the time, returned to the field to record five catches for 88 yards in Cal’s win.
“He showed he was an athlete,” said sophomore receiver Kanwaljit Dutta, who suffered a serious knee injury at the same time. “I definitely remembered that game.”
As the Bears prepare to play the Cardinal in Berkeley on Saturday night, coach Justin Wilcox said he’s still trying to think about Love the way the players recalled that game.
“We’re trying to talk to the guys about the great thing that he did and what an athlete he was,” Wilcox said. “That’s something we’re trying to replicate this week with Bryce. He was so athletic. He’s a good player, too. There’s a difference between a player and an athlete.”
Both Cal and Stanford reacted to Love’s loss in different ways: The Bears held on to win the Pac-12 North with a 10-2 record, but fell short of the College Football Playoff, while the Cardinal finished the season 10-3, with a Rose Bowl bid for the second straight year — and a connection to Cal’s biggest football rival that is most distant.
“I think about Bryce all the time,” said senior safety Quenton Meeks, who played for Stanford in 2013 and ’14. “There are times we share a laugh. We’re in communication a lot. We talk a lot, so it always affects me. But it always comes in a good way.”
Love announced on Twitter that he planned to return to football with a major in civil engineering.
“That’s great,” said Wilcox, who was an assistant coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh. “I was with Harbaugh when he sent out an email like that. It is unfortunate that he’s injured, but who knows what the future holds. You don’t get the opportunity to make this decision until you’re physically unable to play.”
Love’s teammates are trying to get him to realize what a boon he’ll have when he’s healthy again, no matter what the career path might be.
“He understands it’s not about him playing, it’s about his teammates,” Dutta said. “I’m talking about the organization in general, the whole program, with the administration and the players themselves. They know how much impact Bryce Love could have on that team. He’s coming back to the program that he loved, so he’s got a big role to play and be a great leader for us. He’s bringing the right energy. He’s one of our leaders out there.”