Bears back to work to pre­pare for bowl

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTS - By Rusty Sim­mons Rusty Sim­mons is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: rsim­[email protected]­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

The Cal foot­ball team re­turned to prac­tice Fri­day night, al­most a week after its Big Game loss and just a day after the univer­sity an­nounced the new five-year con­tract of head coach Justin Wil­cox.

“After two years, I thought it was a lit­tle too soon. I want to see what he can do. I think we need an­other year of eval­u­a­tion,” se­nior run­ning back Pa­trick Laird joked. “... No, it’s awe­some for the pro­gram. He’s the right guy to take Cal foot­ball to the high­est level of col­lege foot­ball.”

Laird emerged in Wil­cox’s first two years in Berke­ley and is on pace to join Rus­sell White and Mar­shawn Lynch as the only play­ers in pro­gram his­tory to rush for 1,000 yards in mul­ti­ple sea­sons.

“Con­ti­nu­ity is im­por­tant in col­lege foot­ball, es­pe­cially if you want to be suc­cess­ful,” said Laird, who has had five run­ning-backs coaches in his five years at Cal. “That’s the na­ture of the game, but when you have a guy at the top who’s go­ing to stick around and keep the cul­ture the same, I think that helps the young guys.”

On top of leap­ing from the cel­lar to sixth among Pac-12 head coaches’ salaries, Wil­cox’s con­tract, which runs through 2023, se­cured ad­di­tional funds to help with re­cruit­ing and as­sis­tant-coach re­ten­tion.

With a dra­mat­i­cally im­proved de­fense, the Bears are head­ing to the post­sea­son (a Dec. 26 date with TCU in the Cheez-It Bowl) for the sec­ond time in seven years.

“We are all for­tu­nate to be here, and we un­der­stand that,” Wil­cox said. “We have a good thing go­ing. We’re a work in progress, but there are a lot of pos­i­tive things hap­pen­ing here, and it’s great to have that sup­port.” Back at it: This week­end’s prac­tices will be largely de­voted to the de­vel­op­men­tal play­ers, with the ma­jor­ity of those on the two-deep chart fo­cus­ing on weight lift­ing, con­di­tion­ing and stretch­ing.

The high-rep play­ers had a spin class dur­ing Fri­day’s prac­tice, with Laird edg­ing grad­u­ate-trans­fer tight end Ian Bunting for the most miles logged on the sta­tion­ary bike.

“I’m pretty sure I saw him stay on the bike an ex­tra five min­utes,” ju­nior in­side line­backer Evan Weaver joked. “That doesn’t count. If you al­ready won the game, we’re not go­ing to go play over­time.”

The Cal coach­ing staff, which is largely on the re­cruit­ing trail in prepa­ra­tion for the Dec. 19 early sign­ing day, is trav­el­ing with iPads to study TCU’s of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive con­cepts. The coaches will in­tro­duce those schemes to the play­ers next week and then will switch into full game prep the week of the bowl.

Wil­cox said he was thrilled to call se­nior in­side line­backer Jor­dan Ku­naszyk and in­form him about his se­lec­tion to the All-Pac-12 squad. He was the Bears’ first de­fen­sive player to make the first team since My­chal Ken­dricks in 2011.

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