Season of urgency for UC Davis guard


Julian Bertero hounds offensive coordinator Tim Plough as the offensive and defensive linemen play keep away.

Time is running out for Julian Bertero, who is determined to leave UC Davis with more than five victories to show for his five years in the football program. The Aggies have lost 24 of 29 games in which the  offensive lineman has played.

UC Davis has won just seven games the past three seasons after winning five in Ron Gould’s first year as head coach. That may explain why Gould is now an assistant at Stanford and Dan Hawkins is directing the Aggies. Whether Hawkins’ return to his alma mater will improve the Aggies’ luck remains to be seen. Bertero is a firm believer that it already has even though UC Davis was no match for San Diego State in a 38-17 loss last Saturday.

Right guard Julian Bertero is the only returning offensive lineman who started every game for the Aggies last season.

The hiring of Gould in 2013 was a break from tradition in that he was an outsider. When Jim Sochor retired in 1988, longtime assistant Bob Foster was promoted. Following Foster in 1992 was another longtime assistant in Bob Biggs. Hawkins brings a feeling of familiarity, as do the two former Aggies on his staff – Tim Plough (offensive coordinator) and Tim Keane (offensive line). The difference was evident Monday during the Labor Day practice.

After the offensive and defensive linemen went through their respective drills, they engaged in a spirited game of keep away. The objective was for one side to cross the width of the field without losing possession of the ball. Linemen who rarely touch the ball in an actual game could fulfill their fantasies of playing a skill position such as quarterback or receiver.

Bertero is smart enough to realize what the coaches’ objective was by taking a break from drills to play keep away. After all, he is majoring in cognitive science. The game allows the linemen to have a bit of fun and get in their running without thinking of it as conditioning.

“It gets us away from the mindless running. We’re not going to the goal line and doing 100-yard runs,” the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Bertero said. “You know all offensive linemen really want to be tight ends anyways.”

Although his height would make an enticing target, Bertero will start in his familiar position of right guard on Saturday when UC Davis hosts the University of San Diego. He is the only returning offensive linemen who started every game a year ago. He also started every game in 2015 after starting in six of the eight games in which he played in 2014.

“I think he’s played the most snaps of any guy in the program.” Keane said of Bertero, who became a starter as a redshirt freshman in 2014. His debut came at Stanford, just five miles from his hometown of Redwood City.

The Aggies were crushed 45-0 by the Cardinal. That loss was the first of Bertero’s 24. Fortunately, he is not majoring in history. Bertero is not one to dwell on a loss, and a game of keep away during practice on a holiday was the perfect way to put Saturday’s loss at San Diego State to rest and shift focus to the home opener.

“San Diego was a (FCS) playoff team last year, and we think we can beat them,” Bertero said. “We think we can go to the playoffs this year. We’re working on getting there. We’re head and shoulders above where we’ve been.”

Speaking of head and shoulders, Bertero’s hair no longer rests on his shoulder pads. He cut it off in the offseason. He also trimmed his beard so his chin strap is visible. When asked if the coaches prompted him to clean up his act or whether he did so because he wants to be taken a bit more seriously as a senior, he chuckled.

“No, not really. So sorry to disappoint,” Bertero quipped. “I haven’t cut it for four years, and my dad has been hounding me about it. I got some razors rom Costco and off it went. My sister evened it up for me. She got all the spots I missed.”

Keane has no idea why Bertero is sporting a tidy look these days, but he said that Bertero realizes what is at stake this season.

“There’s a sense of urgency. He wants to make the most of his last opportunity,” Keane said. “We talk about legacy. With this senior class, we want these guys to come back 10 years from now – when we have had 10 winning seasons or been in the playoffs 10 years in a row – and say they were the ones that got it started.”

The clock will continue to tick at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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