The More You Grow

One of the strongest players at Cal, defensive end Ernest Owusu is more than a weight room legend.

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David Herschorn/Photo



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Chris Turner never had a chance.

Moments after taking the first snap of the second quarter in Berkeley last year, the Maryland quarterback's pocket collapsed, and he was dropped by Ernest Owusu.

Before the half was up, Cal's defensive end struck again.

With three minutes remaining before the break, the Terrapin offensive line somehow failed to account for the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Owusu. He flew around the left side and hurled Turner by the shoulder pads onto Memorial Stadium's turf.

After coming into 2009 with five career tackles, the junior lineman already had a pair of sacks.

Owusu's celebratory pose - a high-step as he flexed his right bicep - didn't draw the best reviews from his fellow linemen.

Yet the two-play sequence against Maryland gave a glimpse of the signature strength and athleticism that first made Owusu a hit at Cal.

"Clearly, he's a monster," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "He's always been the strongest ... Owusu's just ridiculous."

One only needs to peruse the Bears' weight lifting statistics for further evidence.

Owusu owns the school's bench press mark at 460 pounds, a feat he accomplished as a freshman.

Since then, he has worked up to squatting 600 pounds, which shattered Cal's previous record of 520. And his 352 pounds on the power clean has yet to be surpassed as well.

No small feat in a weight room that has seen powerful hitters like Worrell Williams and Zack Follett pass through its doors.

It's also remarkable when you consider what Owusu looked like just two years before stepping foot on campus.

Despite a 12-sack senior campaign at Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tenn., an undersized Owusu couldn't garner attention from any major schools.

"I was just 215 (pounds)," Owusu says. "I was really small for a defensive end, and only got a couple of offers. After that, I was like, I know my body was going to progress, I just needed one more year."

And did it ever.

He elected to take a prep year in 2006 at The Hun School of Princeton in New Jersey. During that year, Owusu packed on over 20 pounds of muscle.

The rapid development earned him the chance to come to Berkeley, where Owusu - who grew up in Nashville idolizing the Titans' Jevon Kearse - showed off his own freakish strength from day one.

Yet even that raw ability could only take the junior defensive end so far.

Being a workout wonder is one thing. Applying that strength on the field to become the starter he is now is quite another.

"You can't just go out and line up ... you're not going to get away with your bad habits at the collegiate level," defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi says.

It's a lesson Owusu would learn the very same year that he made a name for himself in the weight room.

With a chuckle, he recalls what it was like to line up against Cal's three-time All-Pac-10 center, Alex Mack.

"If you're off on your technique even the slightest bit at all, Alex Mack will destroy you," Owusu says.

"There were times where he would just pick me up, throw me down, all that kind of stuff. He would toss me all around."

Since that rude introduction, Owusu has taken valuable steps towards becoming a more complete defender.

Tyson Alualu was a go-to player for mastering proper technique. The tenth overall pick of this spring's NFL draft helped Owusu to keep his pad level low, improve on playing against the run, hold gaps and hone footwork. Meanwhile, Rulon Davis served as the consummate motivator.

"I would specifically remember some times in practice, if I was doing something wrong, Tyson would just pull me aside and help me understand," Owusu says.

"With Rulon, it was always much more of an intensity thing. He'd just try to make sure you're mentally there and try to pump us up a lot."

Owusu has learned plenty from himself, as well. Jordan and nose tackle Derrick Hill, who have witnessed his growth as a player, called the redshirt junior an avid student of the game - someone who truly relishes learning.

They have stressed the amount of time that he spends dissecting and critiquing his own play in the film room. As much as the two commented on his athleticism, they spent even more time recognizing Owusu's maturity and desire to continue improving.

"He does everything right off the field, he's great in the film room and always gets his questions answered," Hill says. "Now that he's a veteran, he's not making the same mistake twice. He's a great image to replicate."

Owusu always emphasizes the importance of the learning process over any immediate outcome. When asked if he had an encore in mind after last year's breakout opener against the Terps, Owusu opted to think long term.

"I don't like to set really specific goals like ... sacks or tackles, because that's almost like you're limiting yourself," Owusu says.

His teammates agree.

"He's grown at a rapid pace. As long as he continues to work hard, there's no limit to what he can do," Hill says. "Owusu can go to the moon if he wants to, that's his potential."

More likely, opposing quarterbacks will be going to the ground.

Tags: ERNEST OWUSU, CAL FOOTBALL


Ed Yevelev covers football. Contact him at [email protected]



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