Just after Ian Joseph verbally committed to UC Davis, where he would pursue his dream of being a doctor while playing football for the Aggies, his mother delivered the bad news.
"I'm driving back home with my family, and I'm happy and giddy because I've gotten a full ride to my dream school," Joseph recalled. "Then my mom says, 'You've got to learn how to ride a bike now.' "
Growing up in Placerville, Joseph had avoided anything on two wheels.
"It's so hilly, I figured there was no point," he said.
But Davis ranks among the world's 15 friendliest cycling cities. Most students, including many athletes, cover the 7,000-acre campus on bikes of every size and shape.
Being a quick study with razor-sharp focus and determination as big as his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame, the offensive lineman spent so much time after graduating from El Dorado High School in 2010 mastering how to balance his big body on two narrow wheels that his mother, Kathryn Locatell, had to drag him inside for dinner.
"Now, I'm a huge bike freak," he said. "I ride everywhere."
Joseph brings the same drive to the football field, where he is developing into a top left tackle for the Aggies.
Entrusted to protect veteran quarterback Randy Wright's blind side, Joseph was the first freshman in more than a decade to start at the critical position for the Aggies.
Now a junior, Joseph is one of the Aggies' unquestioned leaders, popular among teammates and coaches alike.
"Talk about one guy who, when I took this job, really jumped into the foxhole with me," said Ron Gould, the Aggies' first-year coach. "He was the No. 1 guy. He'd say, 'Whatever you need, coach.'
"I spent a lot of time talking to him about our vision, and his enthusiasm for what we're trying to do has spread throughout the whole team."
Joseph says he has been wowed by Gould, whose hiring may have surprised some observers.
"He's an amazing man," Joseph said. "In seven months, he's completely changed how we do things as a team here. I know some people have doubt - doubt is a very common thing when there is change - but coach Gould has a vision for this program that is inspiring."
Gould spent 16 seasons at Cal developing future NFL running backs. Nine of the Bears' top 11 individual rushing seasons came during Gould's tenure.
While it remains to be seen if the usually pass-oriented Aggies dramatically change their offense this season, Joseph says he has grown fond of run-blocking.
"When I came in as a freshman, I wanted to pass block more because I played basketball, and I was good at keeping my hips in front of a defender," Joseph said. "But as I have gotten stronger and more physical, I've become a little more aggressive, so now I like running the ball.
"With pass blocking, you are sliding backwards, and you have defenders teeing off on you or trying to go around you. When you run-block, you get to take the game to them."
Joseph also has learned, as much as possible, to leave his mild-mannered personality off the field.
"On the field, I need to be mean, aggressive and unwilling to show mercy," Joseph said. "I'll yell, talk a little trash. Nowhere else other than the football field can I get a little mean, a little nasty."
But even on the field, Joseph's kindness occasionally emerges.
Wright calls the primary protector of his health the "most polite guy you'll ever meet."
"On the field, he plays mean, but then you'll turn around, and he's extending a hand to help up a defender he just pancaked," said Wright, a senior. "I'm just glad he's got my backside. He always gives me his best effort."
Joseph's sensitivity may derive from his mother's work. Locatell is a physician and forensics expert on nursing home abuse.
Growing up, he saw horrific pictures of victims and was outraged. He respects his mother's profession, a reason he'd like to follow in her footsteps someday.
Mom, though, wouldn't mind seeing her son play on Sundays.
Joseph used to laugh when she'd tell him in high school that the NFL would be a nice way to pay for medical school. Back then, the three-sport standout didn't see pro football as a realistic goal and said it didn't interest him.
He's starting to change his mind.
"I'm entering my fourth year (he redshirted as a freshman), and the longer I've been here the more of a possibility it has become," Joseph said. "It would be an amazing opportunity.
"But at the same time, I'm not looking too far into the future when there's so much still to do today."
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.