Puka Lopa ambled down a hallway at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon wearing shorts, T-shirt and sandals.
His shock of hair, confined to a ponytail, didn’t move. When Lopa is rushing passers, his familiar look is to have the long locks snake out of the back of his helmet, guiding him like a rudder. The Cal junior defensive end from Del Paso Heights is working his way back into form, and his grin assures there is progress. Lopa, The Bee’s 2010 co-Defensive Player of the Year from Grant High School, has been slowed by left ankle surgery in the spring.
Lopa is antsy, and the Bears need as many stoppers as they can find after suffering a 1-11 season in 2013. Cal yielded 529.6 yardsand 45.9 points a game, ranking 122nd out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
“I’m getting there,” Lopa said. “Can’t wait to play. We’re going to be a lot better this season.”
Lopa also beamed while talking about graduating next May with a degree in social welfare. He understands that he is a beacon of pride for his family and those in the Heights who grow up admiring Grant football players.
“It’s important to me,” Lopa said of his degree. “It’s not just football.”
When healthy, Lopa is a handful at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. His burst off the ball has hounded foes for years.
“He’s such a good player,” said Cal offensive left tackle Stephen Moore, an Elk Grove High graduate. “I went against him a lot in the spring, and he has the best motor of anyone I’ve ever seen. Even in walkthroughs, Puka’s going full speed. Totally respect him. What a beast.”
Cal football players on Saturday evening were treated to a screening of “Don’t Quit: The Joe Roth Story” in the Field Club on campus.
A star quarterback at Cal in 1976, Roth died of melanoma just weeks after playing in an all-star game in Japan. His jersey No. 12 is retired, the only one in program history, and is displayed amid the football offices inside Memorial Stadium.
Former Grant star Syd Thompson, now coaching at his alma mater, was honored to have his Cal locker in 2007 next to Roth’s retired locker cubicle. Among Roth’s close friends at Cal was quarterback Fred Besana of Roseville.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson (Christian Brothers) vows to play a complete season. The third-year player from Cal Poly was suspended for four games as a rookie and eight games last season for separate violations of the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy. He has filed paperwork with the NFL for a medical exemption – unlike before – so he can take the prescribed drug Adderall, used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Said Jackson to Baltimore media: “Absolutely, what’s happened in the past, it makes you appreciate everything. I’m really excited to finally get a full season of football. It’s been two years since I got a chance to do that. Now, it’s time to do that. I’m walking a straight line and doing everything the Ravens’ way.”
Brandon Monroe impressed in San Jose State’s final scrimmage on Saturday as he moves from linebacker to tailback. The Bee’s 2012 Player of the Year from Del Oro looked healed from offseason shoulder surgery, running with power and burst in rushing 18 yards on his first live play since last fall, breaking tackles. He also caught a 48-yard touchdown pass from Joe Gray.
“It’s been awhile,” Monroe told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s definitely a great feeling to come back strong. The shoulder is feeling really good right now.”
Around the region
Vei Moala (Grant), The Bee’s 2010 Co-Defensive Player of the Year with Lopa, was invited to the Houston Texans’ camp as a defensive tackle. He left Cal after his junior season to enter the NFL draft but was not selected.
• Gavin Andrews (Granite Bay) has moved from offensive right tackle to left tackle for Oregon State. Bobby Keenan (Rio Americano, American River College) is getting some looks at offensive left tackle as well for the Beavers.
• Holden Huff (Rocklin) is challenging for the starting tight end job at Boise State. The junior had four touchdown receptions in 2012 but had just six catches last season.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.