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December 9, 2011
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Chad Nightingale was a two-time letter-winner for the California football team. He earned his stripes alongside fellow wide recievers Brian Treggs and Damien Semien.
He's been coaching at Richmond (Calif.) Salesian for 19 years. In short, Nightingale knows talent. He knows the Bears. When his starting offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa finally made things official on Thursday, publicly committing to Cal, it came as little surprise to Nightingale and the Bay Area sporting public. It was, after all, the worst-kept secret in Pac-12 recruiting.
"If there were ever a leak that you would want to accidentally get out, this is one of them, because that them probably affects your recruiting across the board," Nightingale said. "One of the things that a school like USC or a school like LSU always does well is, they'll always get one or two high-profile kids, and then other high-profile kids know that that kid's going there, and that affects them wanting to go there and be on that kid's team. Hopefully, for Cal, that same thing comes to fruition, as far as Freddie is concerned."
Upon receipt of the news that he had finally gotten his two biggest bodyguards in Tagaloa and Christian Okafor, incoming quarterback Zach Kline said, via text: "Hell yeah that's huge. Gotta love the big uglies."
This particular big ugly -- listed at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds -- is bigger than most, especially in the eyes of Nightingale, who has seen Tagaloa grow over the past four years into one of the best offensive linemen he's ever seen.
"I've been coaching football for 19 years at this high school, and I played for five years at Cal," Nightingale said. "I played with Troy Auzenne, I played with Doug Riesenberg, I played with Keith Kartz, these are all guys who played in the National Football League as offensive linemen, and none of those guys were even close to what Freddie is, when they graduated, let alone the fact that Freddie is 17 years old and is still in his first semester as a senior in high school. In terms of physical presence, he's amazing."
Tagaloa ultimately chose the Bears over Stanford and Oregon, but the former Cal reciever in charge of Tagaloa's high school efforts stayed as neutral as possible.
"It's not only objective, but it's intentional," Nightingale said. "I was very, very intentional that, for instance, his family expressed a tremendous amount of interest in Stanford his first three years, and I made it a point on five separate occasions between his freshman and his senior year, I drove Freddie to Stanford when he didn't have a ride down there, and we'd go watch a game or watch a practice or do whatever. I made it a point that during our bye week, which was seven or eight weeks ago, Freddie actually took an official visit to Oregon. Understand, he's only made one official visit, and that was to Oregon. He'd gone to Stanford, I would say, no fewer than 25 times. He's probably been to Cal about six or seven times, and I know he's gone down to visit USC at least once, so the thing is that it was tough, as his choices went down. My job - and don't get me wrong, I'm happy that he's at Cal - but I think I would be doing a disservice to him, if the whole time, I was saying, 'Go to Cal, go to Cal.'"
This isn't Nightingale's first go-around with big-time recruits, and certainly not his first rodeo when it comes to recruits and Cal. One of his former pupils, after all, is Detroit Lions star Jahvid Best. But this time around, it was different.
"As soon as he decided he was going to play football as a freshman, I was getting phone calls, because when a kid that big plays, everybody's interested. We had Jahvid Best at our school a few years ago, and he was phenomenal, but there's no comparison between their recruiting," Nightingale said. "It blew my mind, the interest that Freddie, as a freshman, got."
Some of the earliest attention Tagaloa got had to irk Nightingale at least a little bit. It was the Cardinal that first drew a commitment out of the big tackle, at least, until the departure of Jim Harbaugh and offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski. After that pair left, Tagaloa was wide open, and Bears defensive line coach and 2010 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year Tosh Lupoi began to work his magic.
Tagaloa told BearTerritory in January that he was in an 'open relationship' with Stanford, before de-committing from the Cardinal weeks later and opening up his recruitment.
The No. 27-ranked player in the state was present during one of the final fall camp practices for the Bears in August, and spoke with Lupoi after playing some hoops for Richmond (Calif.) Salesian in the MLK Classic at Haas Pavilion in January.
"I'll tell you right now, that I've met a lot of guys, and I've seen -- this is no exaggeration -- 250 coaches over 19 years coming through Salesian High School, and there are three guys that stand out as the three best recruiters: Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and Tosh Lupoi," Nightingale said. "What Tosh does so well, is he bleeds blue and gold. Tosh Lupoi doesn't talk about Oregon, doesn't talk about USC, he doesn't talk about Florida, he doesn't talk about Notre Dame. He talks about one thing, when you talk to him. He talks about Cal football. He talks about the relationships the kids have with one another, with players, he talks about what it was like for him as an athlete from the Bay Area, being recruited by Cal, going to Cal, having the experience that his parents were able to share in. That guy could sell snow to a freaking Eskimo. He really does an excellent job. The thing is that Freddie really bought into that."
At the same time as Wisniewski and Harbaugh were bolting from Palo Alto, Jim Michalczik was in the process of returning to Cal from a two-year stint with the Oakland Raiders. While Lupoi is the brightest recruiting star on the staff, Michalczik and his resume played a large role in landing Tagaloa.
"With Jim Michalczik there as his position coach, I think Freddie has thought that is a wonderful fit," Nightingale said. "He really liked Michalczik. That's something that, I think it's possible, if Michalczik weren't there, or if Michalczik had stayed with the Raiders, maybe Freddie doesn't go there, but he really, really likes Jim. I think that there were times that Jim's come through recruiting him during the official recruiting period, he and Tosh Lupoi were phenomenal."
Tagaloa is, if anything, a family man, and that entered into the decision, as well.
"There is a very strong Polynesian connection at Cal," Nightingale said. "There are a lot of Tongans and Samoans, Polynesian kids, not all of the universities have that, and Freddie -- who's family is Samoan -- that's a huge boost. Obviously, that's not the main reason why he will go to the school. Other ancillary things, you look at the new High Performance Center, Cal's facilities are now as good as any in the nation. That's coming online as we speak, and that is only going to help the recruiting, because a lot of universities -- particularly in what was then the Pac-10 and is now the Pac-12 -- they would nail Cal, because they would say, 'Look how small the weight room is,' and it's kind of like, whether you bench press in a car or you bench press in a weight room that has 50,000 square feet, you're going to get just as strong. But, now Cal has that, that bell, that whistle, and those facilities, at that point, it's kind of like looking at a beautiful woman. Do you like blonde-haired women? Do you like brunettes? The reality of it is, beauty is, now, with that facility, it's do you like the parabolic shape of their weight room, or do you like the big square, like you have at Oregon? Those things are all, Cal's really got all of those things."
Cal also has the benefit of the Berkeley degree, something that is very important to the engineering-minded Tagaloa.
"If you're to ask me why he chose Cal? Well, first and foremost, he's an academic kid," Nightingale said. "I had sat in meetings with universities that I won't name, and we're sitting in my office and they said, 'We're a top-five academic institution,' and they're not even in the top 100. Yet, they'll sit there, actually saying that, which Freddie found insulting. That goes to what his academic acumen is. To have the opportunity to get the degree in engineering from Cal, which, when you look at almost every other program at Cal, they're a top-five across the board, from chemical engineering to civil and electrical engineering, the University's reputation is only matched by a few schools in the world."
Stay tuned for more on Tagaloa as we go more in-depth with Nightingale in future installments of this series on the commitment.