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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ta'ufo'ou's amazing journey

From walk-on to starting fullback at Cal

The season has been an injury-riddled one for Cal fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou, a 2004 graduate of St. Francis. But that hasn't stopped Ta'ufo'ou, a redshirt junior, from strapping up his chinstrap and taking the field in nine of the Bears' 11 games. Ta'ufo'ou suffered a high ankle sprain when Cal was at Arizona State on Oct. 27, but he did his best to sell coach Jeff Tedford that he was available for duty.

"Will was out there warming up before the game like he was going to play," Tedford said. "We had to force him to come off the field. He's such a tough guy. He's been steady at the fullback position for us as a blocker and as a pass receiver. He's smart and always knows his assignment. He always knows to do the right thing."

"Will and I worked out all summer together," Cal running back Justin Forsett said. "He's a special guy. He's a load in there. He's one of those guys that will jump off a bridge for you. He means a lot for our run game and our passing game."

Ta'ufo'ou, who wears No. 23, has a mutual admiration for Forsett, the Pac-10's leading rusher.

"Forsett is an all-around great guy," the 6-foot, 250-pound Ta'ufo'ou said. "He's a great leader and has good work ethic. He's one of my favorite players to be around."

While Ta'ufo'ou's job is to mostly block for Forsett, he has 55 yards rushing on 10 carries this season with a long gain of 14 yards. Ta'ufo'ou has added two catches for 32 yards.

"It doesn't matter to me if I carry the ball or not," said Ta'ufo'ou (pronounced tau-FOE-oh). "Just as long as I get to play."

Great attitude

It has been Ta'ufo'ou's selfless attitude that has carried him to where he is now. Only one college, Portland State, offered Ta'ufo'ou a scholarship out of St. Francis, where he was a two-way star playing fullback and linebacker. Ta'ufo'ou was tabbed the West Catholic Athletic League's player of the year his senior season.

"Cal started recruiting me towards the end, so I walked on there," Ta'ufo'ou said. "Freshmen have to prove themselves whether they're on scholarship or not, so I knew I had to prove myself. It was a new atmosphere for me. Looking back, I learned to push myself to be a better player."

Ta'ufo'ou redshirted his freshman season, after which he was given Cal's freshman strength award and a scholarship. He earned it the next two seasons, playing on kickoff, kickoff return and punt special teams.

"That first year traveling with the team was exciting," Ta'ufo'ou said. "Just to see these new stadiums and to run onto the field."

This season, Ta'ufo'ou has been pulled off special teams so he can concentrate on his job on offense.

"My blocking has improved, but I still have a lot of work to do," said Ta'ufo'ou, a sociology major with a minor in ethnic studies. "I'm going back to the weightroom in the offseason to get stronger."

A resident of San Carlos while at St. Francis, Ta'ufo'ou plans on having his fan club at Stanford Stadium today.

"I'm looking for as many tickets I can get for my family for the Big Game," Ta'ufo'ou said. "I'll have a lot of family and friends there. Stanford is a good team. They're really fast on defense. Our offense has to be prepared."

The Bears need to win to guarantee a bowl berth, though they still could play in the postseason should they lose.

"We control our own destiny," said Ta'ufo'ou, whose tremendous work ethic has helped control his own destiny at Cal.

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