by Melissa Dudek
BERKELEY - True freshman Isi Sofele is going through a lot of first these days. First time living away from home. First college classes. First days of college football. On day six of camp, he went through his first post-practice press interrogation, telling the Cal Media Relations department and the Contra Costa Times what it is like as a rookie in Cal football camp.
Sofele chose to come to Cal because it "felt just like home" when he came on his visit. Though Berkeley and Salt Lake City, Utah might seem very different to other people, Sofele really believes that they feel the same.
"I thought I was the type to get homesick," admitted Sofele, "I haven't been homesick lately, so this is home. I just felt like all of these guys are my brothers, watching out for me. I feel comfortable."
Sofele arrived in Berkeley at the beginning of June, enrolling in the summer bridge program, taking Education 98 and Education 52, making the first of his transitions into Berkeley life, this one in the classroom.
"They (the classes) were killers! It was not what I expected. This is Cal, so, it's the best education you can get."
"There were a couple of us guys from the team with me. We all went to the same two classes. The classes were preparing us for college, to get us in that mindset. It was still hard, extra hard. But it was cool. We got to know some of the other students here on campus. So when school starts, we'll know them as well as our teammates."
Learning plays has been another challenge for the freshman.
"I just started learning the plays. I should have started it a long time ago. I started it a couple of weeks ago. But it is still hard to remember all the plays, where you go, and all that stuff while reading the defense at the same time."
But that isn't what he finds to be the biggest challenge of camp.
"The toughest part of camp is waking up and going to all of the meetings. Trying to stay awake. I'm kind of used to the practices. Our high school was kind of like this. I would say the meetings are the toughest part. And then trying to learn the plays."
He and the rest of the newcomers tend to hang out together, still feeling their way through the process, but they are quickly making inroads with the veterans.
"I've actually kind of proved myself to the older guys, to get some respect from them. Marv (Marvin Jones), J-Ross (Jeremy Ross), Alex (Lagemann), they've all been taking me under their wing. And Tuck (Verran Tucker) also."
When asked about his favorite part of camp, the answer was almost immediate. "All the eating! We're mandatory to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food is really good. My favorite so far was this chicken we had one day, some soft, tender chicken with some rice. That's all good."
His biggest surprise six days into camp is the amount of time he has gotten to play during practice. An all-region player in high school, he was rated by Rivals.com as the 34th-best all-purpose back and eight-best overall prospect in Utah. He gained 1,920 yards on the ground and scored 30 touchdowns, to go along with 256 receiving yards and four touchdowns his senior season, but he didn't expect to come in right away and get major time out at practice.
"To get as many reps as I am, that has been the biggest surprise for me. I've just been really surprised how many times I am getting out there."
Since being recruited by Cal, the coaching staff told him "Come in, get ready to work hard. Do your thing. Just be you."
He took that advice, and has been working hard, trying to get out there and get open, trying to make plays.
"I am just trying to go out there, go all out and do my best."
Hopefully, soon, Cal fans will have an opportunity to see just that, the quick and talented Isi Sofele doing his best for the Bears this year and for three more seasons thereafter.