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Cal Football: Could Kuony Deng and Brett Johnson Both Rejoin Bears' Defense in 2022?

Deng's eligibility unclear; Johnson is working his way back from a serious hip injury.

Cal will honor 28 seniors prior to Saturday night’s season-ending game against USC at Memorial Stadium.

Among them will be outside linebacker Kuony Deng, who has missed the past nine games with an undisclosed injury and won’t play against the Trojans, either.

Deng is among a handful of players who may be able to return for one more season, based on the NCAA giving athletes an additional year of eligibility because of COVID-19.

His status is uncertain because he’s a sixth-year player, having started his eligibility clock in 2016 as a freshman at Virginia Military Institute. He played the 2018 season at Independence Community College in Kansas and has been at Cal since 2019.

Because his 2021 season was wiped out by injury, he may be able to apply to the NCAA for a waiver that allows him one more season.

Cal senior Kuony Deng

Kuony Deng

Cal coach Justin Wilcox referred to Deng as one of the players on the team with “decisions to make as we move forward,” suggesting he believes the two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection might have the option to return to college, if that’s what he chooses.

Deng was not considered a lock to be chosen in the 2022 NFL draft, although at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds he is an intriguing prospect. But he played in parts of just two games this season and Cal’s schedule was reduced to four games in 2020, so NFL scouts have limited up-to-date game tape on him.

Meanwhile, Wilcox was more definitive about the future status of junior defensive lineman Brett Johnson, who was projected along with Deng to be one of Cal’s top defensive players this fall.

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Johnson has missed the entire season after a serious car accident late last winter, which required him to undergo surgery for a hip fracture.

“Brett continues to work through rehab. He’s been through a tough injury but Brett’s a very tough individual,” Wilcox said. “He is doing as well as anybody could. He’s running around out there — he looks physically really good.”

Wilcox said the specifics of Johnson’s injury are somewhat unusual and there are few examples that demonstrate how football players have come back from his situation.

“Brett Johnson is a very talented athlete, he’s a very strong individual and he’s very tough,” Wilcox said. “I anticipate him being back as soon as humanly possible, whatever that means.”

Wilcox said the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder, a 2020 All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection, has lost none of his size or strength.

Other seniors who could use the COVID waiver to return in 2022 include quarterback Chase Garbers, wide receiver Nikko Remigio and running back Christopher Brooks, although none of them has announced his plans.

Here’s the full list of 28 seniors, including two ex-players, who will be recognized prior to Saturday night’s 8 p.m. kickoff:

Nick Alftin, Luc Bequette, Marqez Bimage, Christopher Brooks, Trevon Clark, Kekoa Crawford, Valentino Daltoso, Marcel Dancy, Kuony Deng, Josh Drayden, Daniel Etter, Chase Garbers, Ryan Glover, Cameron Goode, Elijah Hicks, Matt Horwitz, Isaiah Humphries, Collin Moore, Sami Nazzal, Nico Ramos, Gavin Reinwald, Nikko Remigio, Robby Rowell, Daniel Scott, Branden Smith and Jake Tonges, as well as student assistant coaches Michael Saffell and Gentle Williams, both former offensive linemen.

Cover photo of Cal defensive lineman Brett Johnson by Al Sermeno, KLC fotos

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo