Tragedy to triumph -- Cal's Mike Tepper


Tragedy to triumph -- Cal's Mike Tepper

Kelly Suckow

Not many athletes can say they have been run down by a car. Mike Tepper can.

The former Cal offensive lineman and current Indianapolis Colt had his life changed forever June 26, 2005.

While walking home in the early hours of the morning with a former Cal volleyball player, Tepper encountered a car full of men making lewd comments at his female friend. After trying to avoid the car, the two found themselves directly in its pathway.

True to his offensive lineman training, Tepper's instinct was to protect those around him. The Cypress, California native used his six-foot-six-inch, 330-pound frame to push his friend out of harms way.

Tepper was not so lucky.

The front end of the car hit him, and his leg caught in its wheel well. After being dragged nearly 30 feet under the moving vehicle, Tepper managed to cling to a metal grid in the road and wrench himself from the cars underbelly.

Once free from the car, Tepper looked up, only to see the car heading towards him yet again. With his life flashing before his eyes, the 19-year-old braced for the second blow that came moments later.

A block away, an undercover Berkeley police officer called for assistance and took off in pursuit of the fleeing vehicle. The driver, John Ray Smith, was apprehended and returned to prison after being out on parole. Three individuals were charged, but it is the driver who is now serving life in prison as a third-strike offender.

People called Tepper a hero, but heroisms double-edged blade hit him hard. After four breaks to his lower leg, a shattered fibula and a torn shoulder muscle, doctors told Tepper he would never walk again, much less play football. His life took a downward spiral -- post-traumatic stress disorder, his parents divorce and depression hung a dark cloud over his next six months.

"Those six months," Tepper classified, "were the closest thing to a living Hell that I could have ever got to."

The lowest of the low came while sitting on the edge of Cal's Memorial Stadium one day. Feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, there were brief moments when he thought how easy it would be to put an end to it right there.

A dream of playing in the National Football League provided the incentive to approach life with a newly-fortified constitution. Tepper withdrew from school and began seeing a psychiatrist. Slowly, the weight that spurred suicidal thoughts began to lift, becoming instead, a source of strength for Tepper.

The left tackle rebounded in 2006, competing in all 13 of the Bears' contests. In 2007, he started all 13 games at right tackle.

A pectoral injury put him on the bench in 2008, but Tepper topped his Cal career off as a first-team All-Pac 10 selection thanks to a sixth year of eligibility granted from the NCAA.

In April of 2010, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, only to be cut the day before the 53-man roster was finalized. No stranger to adversity, Tepper was prepared for his three-game stint with the UFL Sacramento Mountain Lions, and took it as an opportunity to keep his hands -- and eyes -- on the ball.

In January 2011, he signed a contract with the Colts. True to his story, last year's lockout denied Tepper from joining his team and forced him to remain in California, unsure of the next move.

With no obligations and sparse options, the 25-year-old packed his bags and moved to Colorado on a whim to become a certified rafting guide at Glenwood Adventure Company. Paddling down the raging rivers, squats with a boat trailer and daily runs up the trails in the area provided ample opportunities for him to stay in game shape.

When the lockout was lifted, Tepper was more than ready to move east for the Colts training camp. He survived the gauntlet of cuts and earned his first career start against the Titans on Oct. 30, 2011.

He finally made it.

Two major injuries, six collegiate seasons, two NFL teams, a lockout and a summer as a raft guide are only the bullet notes in Tepper's extraordinary story.

The scars that snake around his lower right leg remind him of how close he was to losing it all, and allow him to measure just how far he has come since that fateful night.

The best part is, his story is still being written. Life may have forced a few fumbles, but you havent seen the best of Mike Tepper yet.

"They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Tepper relayed with a knowing smile, "and that is definitely an aspect of my life that I can look back on, that made me a stronger individual."
Kelly Suckow is an intern with She is a former staff writer for the Daily Californian and is studying psychology in her senior year at Cal. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJSuckow.

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft


Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.