BERKELEY -- More than 30 Cal football players will enjoy Southern California homecomings Saturday when the Golden Bears play No. 11 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. But none of them has a story quite like freshman running back Jeffrey Coprich.
"Jeff's not supposed to be alive today," said his father, Jeffrey Coprich Sr.
On the day the younger Coprich turned 3 years old in 1996, he and his family were involved in a car accident when a tire blowout caused their vehicle to flip on a family vacation.
His older sister Essence, 7, was killed. So was a cousin. His father, the vehicle's driver, suffered head injuries.
"I almost didn't make it myself," said Coprich, who also sustained significant injuries to his head.
"Sometimes it gets really painful to talk about," his father said.
But Coprich overcame the trauma and the family has made certain Essence is not forgotten.
They worked with congresswoman Maxine Waters, the I Am Foundation and the Los Angeles Unified School District to secure a grant to purchase new books for the library at 116th Street Elementary in Watts, where Essence attended school.
Reading was important to Coprich because for years after the accident it was a struggle for him.
"There were setbacks due to that," he said. "When it came to school, I was kind of behind. A lot of kids have the same issues as me."
His father could not be more proud.
"Jeff went through a whole lot," Jeffrey Sr. said. "To see him at Cal and sitting in a classroom, functioning in his right mind, that's huge."
Appreciative of how far he'd come by high school, Coprich hatched the idea of establishing the Essence K. Coprich Book Club, designed to help youngsters become more capable and enthusiastic readers.
Once a month during his senior year, Coprich met with about 20 youngsters of all ages from throughout Los Angeles, providing the encouragement to read. Kids read books and wrote reports about them. The club remains active today.
"Reading wasn't my strong suit and I wanted to help out a lot of kids," he said. "It was a chance for me to interact, and it's giving a lot of confidence to them."
Said his father, "These are inner-city kids, and Jeffrey says, `I want to see all of them want go to college.' "
Cal coach Sonny Dykes said is impressed by Coprich, who was honored in high school for his community work.
"When you're 19, 20 years old, you think the world's about you," Dykes said. "It shows a lot of maturity to focus on something other than just himself."
-- Dykes has great memories of his only previous trip to the Rose Bowl. He and his wife took advantage of a bye week in the schedule when he was working at Arizona several years ago to attend a U2 concert at the Pasadena landmark.
"Hopefully, this trip will be as fun as the last one," said Dykes of Saturday night's game.
For Cal players who grew up in Southern California, the trek home is personal.
"Nobody wants to get embarrassed in front of your home crowd," said sophomore receiver Bryce Treggs, who grew up in Inglewood and expects 20 friends and family members to attend.
The Bears (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12) are hoping to create turn a corner after opening conference play with one-sided losses to Oregon and Washington State. The Bruins (4-0, 1-0) are the fourth Top-25 opponent Cal has faced.
Sophomore receiver Chris Harper, a Northridge native, said trying to alter the course of the season adds urgency to the homecoming.
"There's more determination to go to our hometown and impress our family and friends," he said.
-- UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., said there is no chance the Bruins will be distracted or overconfident Saturday after losing 43-17 at Cal year.
"It might not have been that close," he said. "We really learned a difficult lesson, but an important lesson that day: Every week you have to be dialed into the opponent you're playing. That one was on me."