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July 7, 2010

Ready to Roar, Part 13: Nick Forbes

Publisher's Note: This is Part 13 of a series going in-depth with Cal's 2010 recruits, allowing fans a look into the lives of their future Golden Bears.

Out of all the 624 victories that the Cal football team has posted in its 123 years, none have been sweeter than the 46 wins against the hated Leland Stanford Junior University. In college football, coaches of big-time programs are measured not just by their overall win-loss records, but by how many times they have defeated their arch-rival.

In February of 2009, the Bears scored one more victory against the Cardinal, and it wasn't even on the football field. At least, it won't be, until the 2010 season.

"Actually, Stanford was my big ticket into the whole Pac-10. That was the only school I knew anything about, was Stanford, so I thought, I'll come out there and see it," says linebacker Nick Forbes. "About a week before I came, my uncle who lives out there told me how close Cal was to Stanford, so we should just go and stay there and we should go see the campus and whatever. So, February of my junior year, the day before Junior Day, I came (to Cal) and went to the 6:30 workout, and then, until 2:00, I toured the campus, and then after two, I left, and spent the rest of the day and the next day at Stanford. I ended up hating Stanford, and loving Cal. I came back for camp in June, and I just knew that this was the place I wanted to be."

On that day in February, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound defender out of Frederick (Md.) Thomas Jefferson fell in love with the Gold and Blue. For four months, Forbes and Cal went on a few dates, got to know each other a little better, and, finally, at the Bears' summer camp, they made things official.

"In the end, it all came down to the feeling that I had when I was on campus, that this is where I wanted to be," says Forbes. "For me, it was the feeling that, this was home. It's hard to describe, but it's just the feeling that you know inside you, that this is where you really want to be."

Now, Forbes in immersed in Cal's Summer Bridge Program, on his way to earning a degree in, get this, mechanical engineering. Oh, and he's completely eliminated one color in particular from his wardrobe.

"I already hate Stanford," chuckles Forbes. "I threw away all my red before I came out here."

Needless to say, the Cardinal are at the top of Forbes' hit list when he takes the field.

"Oh yeah, they're No. 1," Forbes laughs.

Plenty of other schools besides the century-old rivals were in contention for the four-star linebacker during his recruitment. Before committing to the Bears, Forbes held offers from Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia. But it was the no-pressure approach of Bears' defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi that won him over.

"He played a big part, but it's kind of oxymoronic, because he didn't do all that much to get me to come here," says Forbes. "I was talking to some of the other schools (during recruitment), and (Lupoi and I) were joking about how the first question they asked was 'Are you ready to commit?' Maybe, indirectly (Lupoi) did that once, but other than that, he never pressured me into making a decision. If he was telling me something, it was just the things that I was asking him. He informed me about the school, and there was this sense of security in the way he recruited me that speaks for itself. It was really just the honesty and the openness of saying, 'Hey, this is your decision. I'm not here to sell you something, but this is what we have to offer.'"

Forbes wasn't always a linebacker. For most of his high school career, he was on the other side of the ball, carrying the rock as a running back. He gained over 1,000 yards on the ground in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons and found paydirt a combined 41 times during his high school career.

"Honestly, the whole linebacker vs. running back started sophomore year," says Forbes. "My freshman year was when I really started running the ball, and everybody focused on offense in my town. So, everybody looked at me as the next great running back to come through my school. My freshman year I got moved up to varsity to play running back, and then my sophomore year, I started as the linebacker full-time and I was behind the senior running back. I was producing more numbers at linebacker and I was getting more comfortable (on defense), so I developed more as a player on defense."

As time went on, Forbes' coaches wanted him to concentrate even more on the defensive side, and he shined in that role. In his junior year, Forbes racked up 96 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions, and was named second-team all-state and Area Defensive Player of the Year.

As a senior, Forbes recorded a career-high 114 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, three picks and three forced fumbles.

"The other factor was that, my sophomore year, I think I ran a high-4.6 (40-yard dash), and some people would say that I was too slow to play running back," says Forbes. "Now, my speed is better, and senior year, I was the full-time running back, but after my junior year, I just had that linebacker mentality. Also, me being a leader, that part of my athletic make-up, added on to the whole linebacker (role), being in control of the whole defense, that helped me to just be a better linebacker."

When the Bears hit the field again next month for fall camp, Forbes will see action at two linebacker spots in Cal's 3-4 defense, both on the inside.

"Coach (Kenwick) Thompson told me to learn and to focus on the Will linebacker position," says Forbes. "He said they want me as an inside linebacker, and that, in camp, I'll run both the Mike and the Will because they're very similar, but he told me to focus on the Will."

As luck would have it, will is something that Forbes has no shortage of. He is focused not only on becoming a better football player and student (more on that later), but also a cornerstone for the Bears' defense.

"One thing that I'm going to be able to bring is dependability," says Forbes. "In this defense, with its schemes and all the moving parts of it, if one person's out of line, that has an effect on everything. I just want to be a dependable player, somebody that can be counted on."

Forbes had favorite players growing up, but nobody that he tries to emulate. He has a refreshing sense of self and a confidence that will help to provide a leveling influence both on the field and in the Cal community.

"I believe in emulating what drives players," says Forbes. "One player that I really look up to in the way that he thinks about the game, the way he plays the game, is Adrian Peterson. His love for the game is what pushes him. I appreciate his ideals, but I don't strive to be like him or anybody else. I just got to play like myself."

That self-assuredness is what helped propel Forbes to an impressive 3.97 weighted GPA in high school and to choose a challenging major: mechanical engineering. Needless to say, his tours of Cal's new Student Athlete High Performance Center construction site were both inspirational and educational.

"It's tough, but it's doable," says Forbes of his chosen career path. "I'm going to be taking a lot of math. Right now I'm in Math 96 and College Writing, and in the fall, I'll be enrolled in Calculus, Anthropology and Environmental Science."

In high school, Forbes' favorite class was psychology, but his best-and favorite-subjects were always math and science.

"Ever since I was little, I got into the Science Channel. That's what I used to watch when I was at home, because we got upgraded Comcast," says Forbes. "When I was little, my favorite channel was the Discovery Channel, and I would always watch building shows and stuff like that. I was always a tinkerer, finding out how stuff works. My mom would always get mad at me for breaking remotes and stuff like that. It's just always been interesting to me."

At least now he'll make his hay breaking things-namely quarterbacks.

"I'm excited to play in front of the big crowds and all the energy that comes with college football," says Forbes. "To walk out of the tunnel at our stadium, to go to opposing stadiums where everybody and their little sister hates you, I'm just excited to experience the passion of college football."

While football is, of course, Forbes' ticket to Cal, he understands that what happens on the turf on Saturdays is a means to an end. And, it doesn't hurt that he got some sound advice from Mom-whose sweet potatoes, incidentally, will be what Forbes will miss most while out West.

"The end goal is to get a job for GE, because they're an environmentally-conscious company. I want to work on projects that improve the quality of life, but also make us less dependent on fossil fuels and take away our carbon footprint," says Forbes. "I would want to work for GE or Siemens to work on projects like that, construction projects or even smaller projects that build things that help the environment. My backup is construction. My mom told me that you want to do something that's always going to be needed, and people are always going to be building buildings."

The only nickname-the best and the worst, Forbes says-that he has ever had, has simply been "Nicky," given to him by his coach on a nametag before an academic awards banquet. Perhaps, "The Professor," would be a bit more apt. Maybe that'll happen once the team truly starts to gel come fall camp. But, first things first. There's always the annual talent show for newcomers.

"I was talking with one of the players, and he was all, 'What's your talent?' And I was like, 'What're you talking about?' And he said, 'You know you're going to have to have a talent in August,'" says Forbes. "I was like, 'My talent's football,' but, I mean, I got a little Barry White in me, but I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll probably end up singing. So, he was messing with me, and a couple of the older guys were messing with the incoming class about having to run the stairs, but not yet. Everybody's cool, everybody's nice, but once camp starts, and we're all in the same dorm, then all the Welcome to Cal stuff will start."

As for the kind of music that "Barry White" Forbes likes to listen to, it's a bit of a mixed bag.

"What's on my brand-new iPod that I just got today? I like to listen to a lot of different music, but I like to listen to Los Califas, Jay-Z, stuff like that," says Forbes. "I like hip hop, a little bit of jazz. In the morning and when I get home, I like to listen to a little jazz just to relax and to start my day. I like to listen to a wide range of stuff."

When he finally has to warm up the pipes for his solo during fall camp, at least Forbes will have some familiar faces with whom to endure the first-year challenges. Ironically enough, fellow Maryland native Michael Coley wasn't one of them-until very recently.

"I never met him back at home. We didn't even fly together here, didn't really talk before we got here at all, and the first day, we were already talking," says Forbes, who grew up less than 45 minutes away from Coley. "We talk about a lot of things, like just being excited and anxious to start working and proving ourselves, to get all the college football stuff started. He's a cool guy, laid back, and we have a good time just talking about the same kinds of stuff.

"It's crazy to think, like, we'd never met. He committed during halftime (of the Crab Bowl), and I tried to run to the other side and find him. I was yelling his name, and he must not have heard me. I tried to meet him there, introduce myself, you know, welcome him to the family, and we still didn't have any long conversations. It's just so strange to me."

Paradoxically, Forbes and Oakland native Chris Martin formed a fast friendship during the recruiting process, and rubbed elbows during the week of the US Army All-American Game in January, when Martin and Gabe King worked on pulling Keenan Allen to Cal.

"I wasn't really all that close with Keenan during the All-Star week, but I remembered him from my visit and we spoke a little bit. But, I actually got closer to Chris," says Forbes. "Chris, Gabe and Keenan were all hanging out, so maybe that was them (who flipped Allen), but I was shocked as anybody when he committed to Cal. Everybody was like, 'Oh, he's going to Alabama,' so his commitment was a shock to me.

"In recruiting, if you know somebody, you might have the real story about them, like J.R. (Ferguson) and I. We're good friends, grew up in the same town, and he's going on all these visits and we're talking about how he feels about (schools), but I wouldn't say anything to anybody else. Maybe one or two guys know it, but from me to just another linebacker, you get the same story that the coaches get or the media gets, with the whole, 'I'm just trying to make my decision, considering all my options.' From an athlete's-or a recruit's-point of view, we all know that that's not the case."

That's not to say that Forbes didn't try and do a teensy bit of recruiting on his own.

"I didn't do any recruiting," Forbes laughs. "Well, OK, I did a little bit of recruiting with my good friends. It was the only the things that I could just tell them, like, this is my opinion of why I like Cal. J.R. Ferguson asked me how I felt about Cal, and I told him. Arie Kouandjio, I told him some things like what I did on my visit, how did I like people, that kind of thing. It wasn't anything serious, like, 'Hey, you've got to come here,' but I would always joke around with people. I went to a few camps and I'd always break out the Cal shirt, and everywhere I went, it was 'Go Bears!'"

Now that Forbes is on campus, he dedicates most of his time to offseason workouts and classwork.

"Right now, my only hobby is going to class and studying," says Forbes. "There is no free time for anything out here. Hobbies, I guess just hanging out and eating. I love to eat. I like Top Dog, that hot dog place down the street."

Looks like he's already fitting in, well enough. Along with a love for every Berkelian's favorite brat, Forbes, like many of his 2010 classmates, is a devotee of Call of Duty.

"My favorite video game is Call of Duty, that's like, the only game I get," says Forbes. "I don't play sports games, because I think they're repetitive, but I'm going to get the 2011 NCAA, just because I'm going to be in it."

Simple pleasures are the best, after all. The same can be said for Forbes' taste in cinema.

"My favorite movie is Up, and my girlfriend got it for me for Christmas," Forbes says. "Animated films, I love them all."

Just another reminder that, as physically intimidating as the new recruits may be, they're still all just kids, with a long way to go before they can become gridiron stars at the college level. That journey starts with the offseason strength and conditioning program, and Forbes is champing at the bit.

"We haven't really started all that much in the weight room. The first week was introductory, and they taught us the keys to cleaning and they broke down that list (of lifts) for us," says Forbes. "The other day, I got a good session in. They gave us this week off, so we got in, and after that first week, we want to get started, but we can't. As far as looking around and seeing the other guys lift, I feel as though I'm not too far off. I've seen what they're lifting and I know what I can lift from high school, so I don't feel like I'm that far off. I know that I have a lot of strength to gain in this program, so I'm excited to get started and get rolling."

Especially with this star-studded incoming group of linebackers, early playing time will be quite the prize, indeed.

"They said that it'll all get sorted out during camp. As far as redshirting, I don't know anything about that. It's a mutual decision between them and us, and I haven't really sat down and thought about it," says Forbes. "As far as playing time, I'm just going to try and learn as much as I can, give all my effort and it's their decision to see who plays. It's not my decision. All I'm responsible for is putting out all that I can, and the rest is up in the air for somebody else to decide."

Ready to Roar, Part 12: Zach Maynard

Ready to Roar, Part 11: Keenan Allen


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