Friday, August 28, 2009

Recruit Doesn't Let His Stature Affect His Play

Freshman Isi Sofele is the shortest player on this year's roster at 5-foot-7, but he is using his speed to find his niche on the field.

Everything about Isi Sofele is big.

His family-three brothers and four sisters.

His style of play-fast, fast and faster. On a team that boasts names like Jahvid Best, coaches and players still speak of Sofele's insane speed.

His numbers in high school are huge too-2,000 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns during his senior year alone.

Everything about Isi Sofele is big. Except for Isi Sofele.

Sofele is the Cal football team's shortest player, listed at 5-foot-7, and in reality he comes in a bit under that. He looks like someone's kid brother in pads, and he plays like he's watched Rudy a hundred times growing up. The image is made more ridiculous by the fact that Sofele spent fall camp working out with the wide receivers. The difference between throwing a ball to Nyan Boateng and Sofele feels like five feet.

After practice, Sofele stays behind to work with the tennis ball machine to get him up to speed with the other receivers. Switching to wideout can't be easy, but he doesn't complain.

"That's just trying to work on my hands a little bit more. It's hard," he says, tilting his head for emphasis, "but I've gotta do it to get better."

No one tries harder than Sofele, but he's always had to do more to prove himself. Sofele was ranked the 34th-best all-purpose back in the country according to, but only Cal, Washington and Washington State recruited him among the Pac-10 schools. Sofele was shocked when the Bears actually called to offer him a scholarship.

But now that he's here, nobody knows quite what to do with him. The indecision shows in his title in the media guide: athlete. Sofele says he'll stick with the wide receivers for now and possibly do spot-duty as a gunner for special teams.

"I've been getting reps at that (and with) kick returns," he says. "Wherever they feel is right for me, that's where I'll be."

Sofele is quiet and serious when he's being interviewed. He cracks a smile only when talking about his youngest brother, who is just starting to play football competitively. He likes to talk about his family, not so much about himself. He doesn't acknowledge how much more work he has to do just because he got the short end of the stick gene-wise.

"It's been really different. I'm not used to catching so many balls," is all he says of the transition to wide receiver. "I'm used to just getting the handoff and taking off. But it's cool. I'm trying to go out and try something different and fit in with the rest of the guys."

Fitting in is unlikely. Few stand out like Sofele.

Because of his stature, sure. But mostly because of his talent.

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