Going Back to Cali

Sixteen members of the 2003 Ivy League champion Penn Football team call the state of California home, the second-largest state importer to the Quakers program one year ago. Only New Jersey and Pennsylvania produced more student-athletes for the Red and Blue.

But how does one find themselves 2,700 miles from home, attending an Ivy League institution and playing Division I-AA football?

"It's a funny story actually," sophomore linebacker Blake Gillman, a native of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., said. "I first heard about Penn when we read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (the University's founder) in high school. After that, I decided to look into the school."

Of course not all the stories begin this way. The coaching staff heavily recruits the state, mining its gems for future championship runs. This last season, the Golden State was proud to call All-American offensive lineman Chris Clark, W’04 and All-Ivy defensive backs Bryan Arguello and Rudy Brown, W’04 native sons. The Quakers have also had former All-Ivy Californians Joey Alofaituli, Stephen Faulk, Hasani White, Kunle Williams and John Zepeda among their ranks in recent years.

"You can't beat the combination of championship football and academics at Penn," junior defensive back Doug Middleton, a native of La Habra, Calif., said. "The Ivy League provides the best education in the country, and I needed a school where I could have fun, get and education and win.

"I also wanted a place that combined quality athletics and education," junior linebacker Chad Slapnicka, a native of Pacific Palisades, Calif., added. "But the most important thing for me was finding a place that I felt comfortable. Penn had a lot to offer - the combination of Wharton (School of Business) and a football team that is consistently at the top of the Ivy League made it very appealing."

Matriculating students from California do have different adjustments to make in order to adjust to life at the University of Pennsylvania and on the East Coast. In addition to the shared transition of the typical Penn student from balancing new-found independence to managing greater academic demands, those who hail from the left coast must establish a new support system to replace their family and friends they left out West.

In addition, they are also juggling the responsibilities of being a Division I student-athlete and for the Southern Californians, acclimating themselves to the weather of the Northeast - especially during the winter months.

"I definitely thought about transferring many winter mornings," Clark, a native of Temecula, Calif., joked. "But I never would because of all the friends I have made here.

"The first December hit and I realized what winter was really like," Orange County native Arguello added. "It's an adjustment I'm still making."

As for the support system that must be rebuilt, being a member of the Quakers program gives players a step up on their native Californians.

"It was really hard (making that adjustment)," senior offensive lineman Erik Curtis, a native of Manhattan Beach, Calif., said. "But coming to a place and a football team like this, where you immediately have 110 guys just like you, makes it a lot easier to cope with. It really is a family. All the great times and great friends I've made, make all the hard work worth it."

Now with a new support system in place, a veteran of the demands of football and the classroom, the Red and Blue's Californian contingent can concentrate on the real journey of their time at Penn - the development and maturing of the person that they will grow into - mostly from their experiences of life, and football, on the East Coast. The lessons learned, inside and out of the classroom, on and off the football field, will all contribute to the people they will one day become.

"Moving away and experiencing something completely different has made me grow up and helped me to trust that I can adjust to any situation," Arguello explained. "And, it's amazing the dynasty we are creating here at Franklin Field. I definitely chose the right school.”

“Being able to say I've been a part of an undefeated college football team is pretty amazing," senior defensive end Kevin Junge, a native of Lake Forest, Calif., added.

"When you work as hard at something as we work as football, and the results are positive, it shows how real dedication can pay off."

Kevin Junge recovers a fumble against Harvard for one of Penn's 33 take aways during the 2003 championship season. (Photo Courtesy of Tim Morse)

Four years later, these natives of the other coast can return home if they choose, with an Ivy League education and degree, a couple of championship rings and a lifetime of experiences to continue to build from.

"My parents have always stressed education. Getting an Ivy League education means a lot to me and a lot to my parents," Slapnicka said.

"I think it is something I will be very proud of when I get older," Curtis agreed. "It's a good feeling to make your family proud of what you're doing."

The Penn tradition is just not a Northeastern characteristic, especially when it comes to football. Whether a player hails from Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Utah, Nevada, Indiana or Pennsylvania - the goal is a singular one, to continue to build upon the success that has been established by those who have come before.

"I want to keep training and go for a three-peat," Curtis said. "I feel like we owe it to ourselves."

The quest for that three-peat begins as Penn returns to the West Coast for the first time since 1955 to take on the University of San Diego on Sept. 18. For the Quakers that hail from the Golden State, it is also a return home.

Written by Yumee Lee, C’04