For junior linebacker Byron Gruendl, the years are flying by.
Since arriving on campus in 2009, the Danville, Calif. native has played in every UC Davis football game, and has done so with tremendous success.
Last year Gruendl was All-Great West Conference Honorable Mention on defense and won the Palmer Moody Award, given to the Aggies’ most outstanding sophomore.
In this 2011 campaign he is currently second on the team with 37 tackles and one sack.
Gruendl took time to sit down with California Aggie sports writer Caelum Shove to discuss the season thus far, his career as a UC Davis football player and life away from the field.
I think it’s fair to say this season hasn’t gone the way you guys would have wanted. What’s your attitude at this point with four games remaining?
This season’s been really different than other seasons I’ve been here, just the fact that our team’s been way closer. When I first came in here the offense and defense were basically separated into two teams. This summer we really made an effort to come close and bond together. When we hit those first couple weeks, somewhere along there we got into a funk. We had no confidence as a team; we weren’t clicking on all cylinders. In all aspects of the game we were struggling.
Four games left in the season and they’re all really winnable games and we have a lot of talent on this team. I think we’re going to win. I think we’re going to go 6-5 on the season.
If you go 6-5, you win against Cal Poly and you win against Sacramento State. Do you consider this season a success?
I would never think of the season as a success until we make the playoffs. I think its something we can always build on going into next year. You come in with two goals every year – it’s to make the playoffs and to win conference. It’s all about just taking responsibility for our actions and seeing if we can do something about it. I think if we win conference if we win out, then it’s just something to build on for next year.
You came onto campus as a freshman in 2009; you’ve played in every game since you got here. What’s it been like to be entrenched in the football program for three full years now?
Time has flown by. You put so much work into this thing. And you put so much time and effort. You don’t realize that the years and the practices and all those workouts all fly by. You don’t realize the seniors that are on this team, you probably won’t see them that much after this season. It’s just weird how life is, and it’s how the season is. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of the program for this long.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned through three years of Division I football?
Division I football has shaped me all around as the person I am today. My work ethic, my time management skills, where my priorities are, the things I value in life. My position coach [defensive coordinator Mark Johnson] always says, “Football is life within 100 yards,” and I always look at it like that. Football is just life, it’s shaped who I am today.
You came into the program at the same time as Johnson. What’s that been like and how has it affected your relationship?
Johnson has been the best coach I’ve ever had – easily, hands down. He’s taught me all I’ve known about football. The guy is perfect for this program. He’s a father figure. He’s a guy that every guy on this team looks up to and respects with all of our hearts. He’s really changed the program, at least the defensive side of the ball.
How have you matured as a football player in your three years here, besides getting bigger?
Besides getting bigger? [Laughs] Just confidence. That’s the thing I look at. I understand the scheme way better. I understand the whole defense and the concepts of our blitzes and our coverages. When you finally get that understanding you can go out there and play with confidence; you don’t have to worry about making mistakes.
Is there a moment you can point to when on the football field you thought, “This is exactly where I want to be, this is exactly what I want to be doing right now?”
Cal Poly last year was so sweet. We were down 21-3 going at halftime and coach Johnson brings up the defense and says, “There’s no pixie dust, there’s no magic potion, you guys gotta go out and want it.” Next thing you know we go out the second half, we create three turnovers, score 22 unanswered points and we win with about 30 seconds left in the game. That’s what football is all about. That’s when I knew I loved the guys I’m around and the coaches I’m with. That was probably the pivotal moment in my career.
What are you studying?
How’s that going?
It’s going well. When I first came here I had no idea what I wanted to do. Then the last couple years I did a few econ classes and decided – besides the fact that they forced me to declare a major – that econ is something I’m really interested in.
And then, post college plans. Nothing yet?
Graduate, get a job, and make lots of money. [Laughs]
Fair enough. We’ll bring it to closer plans. What are you doing for winter break?
All my roommates are Niner fans and I’m a huge Steelers fan, so we’re going to go to the Monday Night Football game at Candlestick.
You played wide receiver in high school. Do you ever miss playing on offense?
Dude, I love offense. Every time I get a chance I’ll try to go on scout offense. I always remember my freshman year. I told Randy Wright every time, I’m just like, “Dude, I don’t care where I’m at, just throw me the ball.”
You think Coach Biggs will ever let you get in there, maybe on Senior Day?
No, not at all.
For all football news and updates, you can follow CAELUM SHOVE on twitter @CaAggieFootball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org