Although reserve tight end Savai'i Eselu doesn't figure to play much for Cal this season, he's still going to play. He's always going to play. It's a family thing.
After all, the smooth, honey-brown ukulele was handed down from his grandmother to his uncle to him.
"I've been playing since I was 10 years old," the now 21-year-old said. "I actually took lessons in Hawaii but for me, I just go by ear. We used to jam a lot. I used to play a lot with my dad and uncle. I come from a family of musicians."
Eselu's uncle, O'Brian Eselu, is a celebrated local singer who was nominated for Hawaii's male vocalist of the year. His performing troupe, Ke Kai O Kahiki, regularly wins top honors in Hawaii's Merrie Monarch festival.
Unlike his performer uncle, the nephew said he's too scared to sing in front of an audience, but that doesn't stop him from busting out impromptu jam sessions, as he did the other day after practice at Memorial Stadium.
Eselu flipped the latches on a battered black case, withdrew his handcrafted KoAloha ukulele and settled onto a splintered bleacher seat nearly three times as old as his instrument. Joining him were teammates Aaron Tipoti and Solomona Aigamaua, Hawaiians like Eselu.
"My youngest brother, he's actually killing it. He's better than me," Eselu said while fingering out a tune. "I (play it) to wind down. Everything is so upbeat, so then you hop on the uke and it's chill time. I usually play by myself, sometimes in the locker room."
Eselu got a taste of the big time in 2007 when the music department at Moanalua High School in Oahu was invited to play in Carnegie Hall. He left his uke at home in favor of his upright bass.
"It was crazy," Eselu recalled. "Everything was all gold and velvet. You could hear everything come back to you when you played. We had one of the top music departments in the nation."
These days, Eselu jams mostly at the Albany apartment he shares with Tipoti, a defensive lineman, Aigamaua, a tight end, and freshman linebacker Steven Fanua, the only Californian in the bunch.
Several years ago, Cal's Polynesian players got in the habit of gathering in the bleachers after practice to socialize for a few minutes before continuing with their daily schedules. The current players continue the practice, although they are joined by some of their non-Polynesian teammates, an example of team-building of which coach Jeff Tedford would approve.
"It's more like a family thing," Tipoti said. "In practice, we focus on our own things and after practice, we gather and socialize. It started with just us (Polynesians) but it grew to teammates in general. We talk about football but more so funny little things that happen. We leave football on the field and clear our minds."
Added Aigamaua, known as Mona to his teammates, "We share funny moments that happen in practice. After each practice, we always sit there and talk. We're always the last ones to come off the field."
The personable Eselu was asked if he ever used his uke to meet girls.
"Once upon a time," he said.
"Locked up, brother," he said, mentioning a girlfriend back in Hawaii.
Starter Anthony Miller and backup Spencer Ladner are slated to get most of the tight- end snaps for the Bears this season, but Eselu still will find a way to play as he maintains a family tradition, one plucked string at a time.