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Andrew Cameron didn’t think he was mean enough for football. He didn’t chew raw glass and spit out the pieces like sunflower seeds. He didn’t growl or foam at the mouth. So he quit football before his sophomore season at Healdsburg High School. He was too nice, he thought. What’s the point anyway? He had been playing football only for a year. No one would notice.

Seven years later, Cameron was blocking for future NFL Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. A college scholarship athlete at a prominent Division I school.

Ten years after that, Cameron, now 34, wakes up every morning around 2 a.m. at his Santa Rosa home, the pain above his right shoulder so intense, the shredded herniated disk reminding him of the 32 games he played at Cal.

So get out your magic marker, folks, and let’s connect the dots. You’ll find you’ll need about two of them. Some people might consider this a journey. Others will think of it as Mister Toad’s Wild Ride. Either way, make a pot of coffee and stay for awhile. This takes some ‘splainin’.

How’s this for a beginning: Cameron has had a torn biceps tendon, two concussions, two shoulder surgeries, three knee surgeries and doesn’t regret a moment of football — even after remembering the time his right thumb was bent so far back it touched his right forearm.

He thinks of his injuries as a blessing.

Of course, Cameron wouldn’t want his son to play football.

Unless his son saw football as akin to taking a breath — needing it to be alive.

“When Tom Kirkpatrick told me I was going to play tackle,” Cameron said of his neophyte beginning at Healdsburg, “I thought that meant I was going to tackle someone.”

Cameron was 6-foot-5, 275 pounds as a freshman and, given his lack of knowledge about the game at the time, he thought he needed to have the personality of a fire-eating dragon. So he quit before his first game as a sophomore. Wait, the head coach said, lemme come to your house to chat. Go to one more practice but do it with this direction — you only have to be the dragon on the field. Off it, Cameron could be a school crossing guard if he wanted. Separate the two.

Fine, the kid said. Mature and smart, Cameron found it uncomplicated to own two personalities. The game, however, was a bit more difficult to master. He had the big body required of an offensive lineman. But the big body was growing. Cameron’s mind was racing to keep up. Kirkpatrick, along with assistant coach Gale Bach, persuaded — would forced be too strong a word? — Cameron to attend a June camp for college prospects at Berkeley.

“A Division I athlete?” Cameron laughed at the thought. He had just finished his sophomore season. He was barely feeling competent, not stellar. This could be embarrassing. And then the miracle occurred — to this day, Cameron isn’t sure what happened.

Across from him during a drill was Tosh Lupoi, a De La Salle kid who was Cal’s top-rated defensive prospect. Block him, Cameron was told, and do three things. Set your feet apart; establish a wide base. Get your butt down. Fire your hands into the chest of your opponent.

Cameron did as he was told. Knocked down Lupoi. Do it again. He did it again.

“To this day,” he said, “I still don’t know what happened.”

Here was this big kid, an unknown, from this small school who just flattened The Prospect. The bells and whistles went off not just at Cal. The Pac-10 came a-courtin’. Cal offered Cameron a scholarship at the end of his junior year. Playing through injuries, Cameron started 26 of his 32 Cal games. Made Pac-10 honorable mention a couple times.

You would think that Healdsburg, a small and friendly town, would embrace Local Boy Makes Good. Some were friendly. Some weren’t.

“I had an English teacher who told me I wouldn’t last six months at Cal,” Cameron said. “Other people thought it was unfair that I got to go to Berkeley on a athletic scholarship.”

Cameron made it six months, and then some. He graduated with a bachelor’s in legal studies. He found an education, all right, not just for a diploma but also in how to handle grace under pressure. That would be his Aaron Rodgers story.

“I don’t recall the exact game, but we were down with three minutes left in the game,” he said. “I asked Aaron, ‘Will three minutes be enough time to score?’ He said convincingly: ‘All I need is 60 seconds.’ We did score and win the game. It was clear that when you first saw Aaron and Marshawn that they were special, a cut above. Every pass Aaron threw was perfect. He was smart. We ran a very complex pro offense and he ran it with no problem.”

As for Lynch, the celebrated man-beast was just that even as a freshman.

“He would do stuff to guys that was embarrassing,” Cameron said. “He’d run plays with three to six guys hanging on him when he went out of bounds. Walking in the door from high school, Marshawn did 330 pounds (lifting weights floor to chest in one movement). That’s a lineman number. I did 315 pounds as my max.”

Every athlete who plays Division I football thinks of the next level. For Cameron, that became a fleeting thought the day he saw teammate Ryan O’Callaghan — drafted by the Patriots — squat 630 pounds without warming up and a few months after shoulder surgery.

“My best was 405 pounds,” Cameron said.

Cameron married his college sweetheart, Caitlin, and they are proud parents of 14-month-old Scarlett. Running an innovative solar company with a college chum, the Camerons may add another child to the brood, and if it’s a boy, Cameron has a simple answer and then a complex one to whether he’d want his son to play football.

“The short answer is no,” Cameron said. “Do we really want our kids to run and knock the crap out of each other? Kids don’t need to play football.”

On the other hand ...

“Based on the experiences I had,” he said, “I think it would be selfish for me to say no. Football is the ultimate team sport. The things I learned about discipline and selfless behavior. The memories I have are incredible. I could talk about Aaron and Marshawn all day. I don’t have any regrets playing the sport. I learned so much because of it.”

What Cameron learned, above all, is there is no formula in athletics. Parents may have dreams, see their kid’s future in bright lights, fantasize of the golden rainbow, and then always — always — be forced by circumstance to take a seat and remain quiet. No path is the only path. Some journeys are even off the beaten paths. Andrew Cameron can tell you that.

“My dad is a pacifist,” he said. “Never wanted to me to play football. He was abroad on business when my mother signed me up.”

If your dad wasn’t overseas?

“I probably would not have played,” Cameron said.

Cameron stole a line from poet Robert Frost. He took the path less traveled. In fact, no one was on his path. His father didn’t want him to play football. His mom did. Considering everything that came after it, it was a perfect place to start.

To contact Bob Padecky email him at bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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