BERKELEY — Nestled among the trees above Memorial Stadium in a quaint craftsman-style fieldhouse that in a previous life was a dilapidated restroom facility resides the most accomplished of Cal's sports teams.
No program on the Berkeley campus can match the achievements of the men's rugby squad, which this weekend at Stanford will try to win its sixth consecutive national title, its 18th in 19 years, and its 25th since the college game began crowning a champion in 1980.
Aside from coach Jack Clark, who has orchestrated a dynasty that would make John Wooden proud, no one carries the weight of the Cal rugby legacy in quite the same way as Colin Hawley.
A senior and two-time All-American from Sacramento, Hawley is the son of the late Loren Hawley, who played at Cal in the mid-1960s and is regarded as one of the greatest players in U.S. history.
"All I've known is Cal rugby, really," Hawley said. "There's definitely pressure. When you're a younger guy, it's not as big. But especially when you become seniors, you've never carried the team, you've never been the one who's leading the team from the front."
As a fourth-year senior — rugby players have five seasons of eligibility — Hawley is now one of the leaders on a team that has defeated 114 consecutive U.S. college opponents dating back to 2003. The Bears are 100-4 during his four seasons.
The Golden Bears (29-1) face Army (12-1-1) in the semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m. at Stanford's Steuber Rugby Field. BYU (16-1) and San Diego State (12-0) square off in the other semifinal, with the winners advancing to Saturday's 7 p.m. title game.
Clark, with a record of 469-67-5 in 26 seasons, said this club benefits from great experience but has yet to play its best game. But last year's success, including a 59-7 trouncing of BYU in the title game, has limited value for a club whose players have had to grow into new roles.
"Colin didn't have to lead this team to a championship last year, he just had to do his bit. There were other guys who did that," Clark said. "Now he's that guy, so he's in a very different position."
Perhaps, but it may also be Colin Hawley's destiny.
Loren Hawley and the '65 Cal team made a trip to Australia and New Zealand that has become legendary. They were expected to be swamped by the powerhouse squads Down Under but emerged with a 5-2-2 record and lasting respect from the rugby world.
Even at Jesuit High, where he began playing rugby, Colin had only a limited grasp on his father's status in the sport. He watched men he didn't know approach his dad to shake hands, recalling the time when they played against one another.
"I really didn't understand," said Colin, who began to get the picture during a trip to Canada his freshman season at Cal, when old players sought him out to share tales.
"Wow," he recalled thinking, "this is some really cool stuff."
"Loren was truly an exceptional player," Clark confirmed.
Colin fell in love with the game because he didn't have to wear football shoulder pads and because it allowed everyone on the field the freedom to handle the ball. Determined to follow his father to Cal, he attended Clark's summer camp for three straight years in high school.
Rugby players do not receive athletic scholarships, but Clark welcomed Hawley, confident that the "apple-tree" relationship would pay off. Hawley has grown to 6-foot-3, and brings speed and skill to the game.
"He's a very good player, and he's got a lot of runway ahead of him," Clark said. "But you wouldn't trade him for anybody in the country, really. He's got a chance to be one of the best American-born players."
This season was the first Hawley played without the watchful eye of his dad. Even last year, when his father's long battle with throat cancer took a bad turn and Loren no longer could talk, he was a regular at games, walking the sideline with a notepad and pen, scribbling messages to his son — and sometimes the referee.
Loren watched his son play for the last time on March 26 of last year in Vancouver, British Columbia, against powerful University of British Columbia.
"We lost, but it was one hell of a game," Colin recalled. "I had a pretty good game."
Loren Hawley died 10 days later.
Colin, already juggling schoolwork and the peak portion of the rugby schedule, also drew the responsibility of executor of his father's estate.
"I was dumbstruck by how well he handled all of that," Clark said. "Pretty impressive."
The prospect of possibly winning Cal's 25th national title this weekend has special meaning to Hawley, but not because his father is gone.
"I always think he's there," Colin said.
Contact Jeff Faraudo at email@example.com.