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.