Cal Football: Center Michael Saffell Says He's Back in 2021 - And He Has Plans

Veteran sees big things for Cal's O-line and the team's overall prospects
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Michael Saffell has big plans.

And they involve returning to Cal for another football season.

“I’m coming back in 2021,” Cal’s senior center says at the top of the video above. “I talked to coach (Justin) Wilcox about it and the guys. Really excited. I think we’ve got a great group coming back, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

“In spurts we saw it this year, we flashed some things we could do in the new offense with coach (Bill) Musgrave. Man, it’s a great opportunity. Couldn’t be more excited.”

Saffell and all seniors have the chance to repeat the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Huntington Beach native says he’s returning for two main reasons:

“I haven’t really had a full, healthy season. That’s really what I’m striving for with this team,” said Saffell, who earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. “And then just some unfinished business left on the table. We want to win the Pac-12 — that’s our goal.”

Cal was just 1-3 in this season mangled by positive tests and canceled games. But Saffell remains confident that the Bears are pointed in the right direction.

“I think we’ve been trending that way every year. This year was a little bit of a bump in the road with some adversity we faced, only getting four games,” he said. “I think we’re still trending that way. The culture is set. We have great coaches, great talent returning. I’m really excited to be part of it in 2021.”

Cal had two other senior starters on their O-line this season, tackle Jake Curhan and guard Valentino Daltoso. Curhan hasn’t made an announcement about his plans, but he has accepted an invite to play in the Hula Bowl All-Star game, which strongly suggests his college career is over.

Saffell stopped short of revealing what Curhan, a four-year starter, intends to do.

“I think he’s still making up his mind. Whatever he’s going to pick, we all support him. We love him,” Saffell said. “It’s always been his dream to go to the NFL. I think he’s got a great shot. I can’t wait to see that guys keep playing, especially on Sundays.”

Even without Curhan and Daltoso, the Bears figure to return eight offensive linemen who started games this season: Saffell, Brian Driscoll, Brayden Rohme, Ben Coleman, McKade Mettauer, Matthew Cindric, Will Craig and Brandon Mello.

Saffell sees a deeper group that will create competition and drive performance higher.

“You look across the country at the teams that are great, they have depth on the O-line every year,” he said. “This is the most optimistic I’ve felt about our O-line.”

In the video above, Saffell reflects on the crazy 2020 season, where COVID issues with the Bears or their opponent caused three games to be canceled and left the Bears at less than full strength in every game before their finale, a win over eventual Pac-12 champ Oregon.

“I’ve really tried to stay away from the negativity of 2020. It’s really easy to draw it up and just say yes, let’s move on to 2021,” he said. "The way COVID’s going and the numbers across the country, you just don’t know.

“I want to look back on it and be positive of the steps we took on the offensive line. We flashed greatness on offense, which is something we’ve been striving for in the coach Wilcox era. We’ve always had a great defense that has kept us in games. The offense is going to have to pick up some slack at points to be a great team.”

Saffell dismisses the suggestion that expectations created pressure the Bears struggled to shoulder. Instead, he believes disruptions throughout the offseason when the team was apart for six months completely changed the landscape.

“I think the momentum and expectations all went out the door when that happened,” Saffell said. “For six months I was training in my garage, not knowing when the team was going to come back together.”

Saffell also has goals off the field he wants to continue to pursue, including a master’s program called information and data science that has him intrigued, and the summer reading program for Bay Area grammar-school kids he inherited former Cal running back Patrick Laird and has operated the past two years.

He said the challenges that school teachers and their students faced on a daily basis with virtual learning didn’t leave much time or energy for the reading program.

“If you can imagine first through fifth graders on Zoom, that’s the challenges we were up against. They all want to show you their dog on camera,” he said. “I’m like, `Hey young man or girl, I’ve got this reading program that’s going to help your education.’ They don’t care at all.”

But Saffell remains confident that the program can be successful and wants to expands its scope to Cal athletes in other sports, with representatives of both genders and different racial backgrounds.