BERKELEY — For the ultimate barometer of how far Cal defensive end Tyson Alualu has come as a football player, we turn to Bears guard Noris Malele, who has had his share of run-ins with him on the practice field.
"Going against Tyson is like the defensive linemen going up against (center) Alex Mack every day — it definitely helps us get better as a unit and as individuals," Malele said. "We're fortunate to go up against him every day."
That's about as high praise as you can get from a Cal player. Bears interior linemen have raved — or more accurately, lamented — practicing every day against Mack, a finalist last year for the Rimington Trophy given to the top center in the country.
Alualu may not be an All-American this year, but he's quickly approaching All-Pac-10 status. A steady player during his first two years in Berkeley, Alualu has taken his game to a new level this season, and anyone who has been around the Cal program has taken notice.
"I don't really know where it came from, but this season he's just been a monster," Cal linebacker Anthony Felder said. "Everybody I've talked to on our offensive line and even the defensive guys that have to go against him during drills in practice say that he hits harder than anybody they've ever played against. It was immediate this season, once he put the pads on and started running some things in camp, it became apparent really quickly that he was going to be a force this season."
After getting into the playing rotation as a true freshman, Alualu started every game last year and recorded 52 tackles, the most by a Cal defensive lineman since Andre Carter in 2000. In the first three games this season, Alualu has 14 tackles, three quarterback hurries and a sack.
"When he lowers his head, he delivers a pretty big hit," Cal offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "He kind of exposes your flaws, in a good way. If you don't use the perfect technique or screw up a little, you're not going to block him. It shows you what you have to work on."
Cal's switch to the 3-4 base defense seems to be working wonders for Alualu, who has been a force making plays in the running game and applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Alualu is 6-foot-3, 290 pounds but has the movement of an undersized defensive end.
"I think he's running as well as he's ever run here," Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "I keep forgetting and (defensive line coach) Tosh Lupoi reminds me that he's almost 300 pounds. You look at him and you don't necessarily think he's that big. The way that guy moves at almost 300 pounds is pretty good."
The soft-spoken Alualu isn't sure what the fuss is about. He simply says his improvement is coming naturally with experience.
"I just know the game better," Alualu said. "I feel I understand the game more. The thing that is helping me is my experience."
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.