Al Sermeno - KLC Fotos
It happened quickly, as Gavin Reinwald remembers it.
The Elk Grove TE was set to go to Hawaii, where he'd been committed for some time, but nearing the end of the 2017 cycle, a few factors were converging about 83 miles south in Berkeley.
New head coach Justin Wilcox noted two things he wanted to do in his opening press conference. The first to was recruit from Northern California on out. The second was to recruit the tight end position again. The former of those got Cal director of recruiting Hank Weinberger to talk to then-Elk Grove head coach Chris Nixon, as the Bears staff worked to establish ties to high schools in the Sacramento area.
"Hank is actually the one who got me here," Reinwald remembered,"He was talking to my high school coach, and he was asking him about kids for the class of 2018, and he was like ‘who do you guys have coming out for the class of 2017,’ and (Nixon) was like ‘oh we have some tight end who’s going to Hawaii.’ (Weinberger) was like ‘oh really, we need a tight end.’ So he gets the film, sends it to (Beau) Baldwin. Next thing you know, Baldwin comes down the next day, visits me at the school, visits me at my house and then offers me."
In that whirlwind, Reinwald took his official visit on the final recruiting weekend for the Bears, committing on January 29th, along with five other players who committed after their visit.
"I took my official and committed right on the spot," Reinwald said.
As much as Reinwald was not on Cal's radar up until that final week, Cal was not on his at all.
"Never once in the recruiting process did I see Cal as a level I’d be playing at until that last week," Reinwald said, "and I was like ‘this is really gonna happen, this is crazy.’”
When it was all said and done, Reinwald ended up, by Rivals rankings, as the lowest ranked player in Cal's 2017 class, as a two-star (5.3) tight end. Despite that, he's one of two true freshmen playing from that class (with the highest rated member of the class, Elijah Hicks, playing a big role).
In fact, Reinwald may have been the biggest surprise to show up on the depth chart before the season. There's three big reasons why he's there, the first one, as Charlie Ragle describes it is his sense of calm.
"The thing about Gavin from day one is he’s taken it all in stride. You don’t see get too high or get too low," Ragle said, "You can get on him, he doesn’t get all flustered, he makes a play, he’s like yeah that’s what he’s supposed to do. You really appreciate that about him, being steady and acting like he’s a junior or senior as opposed to a true freshman."
The second is the elephant in the room for the Bears on offense, the lack of Ray Hudson. Hudson has been out with an injury since the middle of fall camp, one that the Cal coaching staff has been tight-lipped about (it isn't season ending, otherwise it'd be listed), but Hudson has been helping the young tight ends grow, injured or not.
"Even over summer, we came out here, and it’d be me, Ben Moos and Jake Tonges, he knew we were all just freshmen, the ‘young pups,’ that’s what he’d call us, he’d try to throw us in there, get us prepared because he knew we had to step up, and he really helped us be fundamentally sound," Reinwald noted. "After practice during fall camp, he’d come out here and help us with our technique too, and even when he went down, he still comes out here and talks to me about all the routes, definitely helped me out with my routes lately."
Those fundamentals are the third factor, as Reinwald is currently undersized for the tight end position at 220 lbs, and has to be concrete in his technique to deal with a number of bigger players
"That was one of my key things" Reinwald said, "because I knew coming in that I’m the smallest tight end out here, I really had to come out here and work on my technique because that’s the only way I’m going to survive against dudes like Cam Saffle or James Looney."
"We’ve been working a lot outside of the stadium," Moos said, "studying the playbook and obviously in practice, working together quite a bit. I think he’s very gifted mentally, and in open space he’s very talented in the passing game as well, his technique is very very good."
That's been another change for the freshmen, as tight end at the high school level is a league away from tight end in the Beau Baldwin offense. There's zone leverages to understand in the pass game, where to find the open space to sit in or how to set up a linebacker so you can find that space. Reinwald and Moos both have noted that there's wasn't much in the way of a playbook, maybe four or five route combinations along with some run plays, both noted they actually had to take the time to study it.
Study time has paid off for Reinwald, with five receptions over the last two games, including a one handed grab early, one that Reinwald noted was the first one-handed catch of his playing career. It's caught the attention of Wilcox as well.
"Real natural catching the ball, you saw it early," Wilcox said, "I guess the Weber game, first third down, he’s real natural catching the ball, he runs well, he runs good routes, he understands leverage by the defense, so think he’s gonna be a good player and just gonna get better and better the more he plays."
For Reinwald, playing more is going to be a matter of growing, he's been used mostly in passing situations, as Kyle Wells and Malik McMorris have been in when the Bears want blockers. He's has the frame to put on size and become a multi-faceted tight end, but he's rolling with the punches so far.
"I definitely didn't expect to get in that fast, it was just kinda 'Gavin get in there,' this is my time."
He should expect things to not happen more often, as the reverse is being proven true.