BERKELEY -- Bryan Van Meter had been in Cal's football program almost four years before he finally got to run around on the field during a game. That was one of the signs that it might be time for something new.

Van Meter, a reserve quarterback, left the Bears program after last season to try rugby. A walk-on stuck behind Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley and Brock Mansion on Cal's depth chart, Van Meter took the field only as kick holder.

It was a job he took seriously and handled well last season. And when usually flawless long snapper Nick Sundberg sent one sailing over Van Meter's head on an extra-point attempt at Washington in November, Van Meter had to -- get this -- run after the ball.

"That was the first time I ran in a game," Van Meter joked. "(Holding) is not doing much, but it's a way to get on the field. It was something I was proud of."

Van Meter enjoyed being part of the Bears' football program, but with only one year of eligibility remaining and virtually no chance of taking snaps in a game, he decided he didn't want to go through another season getting no reps at practice.

But Van Meter didn't just change sports. He tried out for one of the best rugby programs in the universe, despite having virtually no experience in the sport. The result? Because of a rash of injuries to Cal's wings, Van Meter has become a regular member of the Bears' playing rotation, starting eight games and scoring two tries.

"We just made the assumption he'd make the team, but we made no promises of playing time," Cal coach Jack Clark said. "He's doing pretty well. He still has a ways to go in terms of developing instincts for the game. He's going to be a better player a year from now."

Van Meter never had played rugby before last summer, when some friends persuaded him to play with them in a tournament in Palo Alto. He played in about 10-15 games, and that was the only rugby on his resume when he went to Clark to find out about joining the team.

"There wouldn't be too many guys on the football team who couldn't be good rugby players," Clark said. "It helps to have been in contact situations, and rugby also is a game of space, putting the ball into spaces on the field that aren't defended. So it helped that he had those quarterback skills, the ability to see the field and make some reads."

Still, this wasn't just any rugby team Van Meter was joining. The Bears are the premier program in the country, having won 23 of 28 possible national titles since 1980. That Van Meter has been able to make an immediate contribution is partly because of the Bears' injuries but also because of his athletic ability and natural acumen for the game.

"It was a little intimidating coming out to such a good team and lacking so many skills that everybody else had," Van Meter said. "I really appreciate the opportunity to play, because playing with guys that have so much experience has helped me get better. I still have a lot to learn, but I feel a lot more comfortable than when I first started."

Van Meter knows it's going to be strange sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium this fall to watch his former teammates play and said what he'll miss most about football is the pageantry of game day.

And the thing he regrets most? That he never got to be involved in a fake field-goal attempt.

He said he thought it might happen at Arizona State last season, when special teams coach Pete Alamar yelled to him to come back to the sideline after Van Meter had already run onto the field.

"He just wanted to make it look like we might be doing something," Van Meter said. "I was so close."

Contact Jonathan Okanes at jokanes@bayareanewsgroup.com