BERKELEY -- They were called "The Swagger Games," hardly a term you'd associate with Cal football after last fall's 1-11 season.

But Damon Harrington knew he had to get creative. The team's strength and conditioning coach faced a mountain of discouraging data from 2013. The Bears were winless against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, they had 148 designed running plays that produced 2 yards or less, and the defense allowed an average of nearly 28 points in the first half.

So Harrington devised "The Swagger Games," an offseason competition designed to generate leadership, increase the strength of the team and improve performance inside the weight room, and most importantly, on the field. Harrington, 36, who came with coach Sonny Dykes from Louisiana Tech after the 2012 season, recognized the urgency of the moment: Get stronger or get trampled again.

University of California running back Muhammad Khalfani (29) runs the ball in practice in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay
University of California running back Muhammad Khalfani (29) runs the ball in practice in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

"The development from that point to the (start of) the season can make or break us," he said.

Eight sets of co-captains drafted their teammates and the teams were scored weekly by coaches in six categories -- strength, speed, agility, academics, combativeness and self-discipline.

The draft itself provided motivation, Harrington said.

"This is what your team thinks of you, your work ethic," he said. "That's a little bit of an eye-opener."

Senior center Chris Adcock said the competition made players more accountable than usual "because there's seven or eight guys who know if you're not there."

Sophomore guard Chris Borrayo, who was activated from redshirt status and started the final five games last season, now feels far more ready to play.


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"My first summer here (2013) I did 330 pounds in the squat. Now I'm at 425," said Borrayo, one of three freshman O-line starters in the Big Game. "My confidence is higher, knowing I'm a lot stronger."

Strength is up roster-wide, said Harrington, with average gains of 40 pounds in the squat, 30 pounds for the power clean and 35 pounds in bench press.

With fall camp now in its second week, Harrington calls "The Swagger Games" a success.

While the job of building strength is ongoing, Dykes said the team is now conditioned well enough to execute its fast-paced, no-huddle "Bear Raid" offense.

"It takes a little bit of time to understand the dynamic involved in that and get those guys in that shape. I don't know that we ever did last year," he said. "The good thing is I think we're there now."

Dykes said much of the reason for the Bears' problems last season -- besides the drastic change in the style of play -- was the team's youth.

"When you're young, you're typically a weak team and that certainly was the case with us," Dykes said.

The Bears became younger by the week last fall as veterans were felled by injuries. By the time they traveled to Stanford for the Big Game, nine of their 22 starters were freshmen or redshirt freshmen. The result was an historic 63-13 defeat.

"Guys were playing," Dykes said, "because there wasn't anybody else."

Stanford coach David Shaw empathizes. He remembers 2007, his first season as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh, when the Cardinal was racked by injuries and staggered to a 4-8 record.

"I would say we had a lot of the same problems," he said. "You have to get your strength and conditioning staff established.

University of California wide receiver Bryce Treggs (1) runs with the ball in practice in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay
University of California wide receiver Bryce Treggs (1) runs with the ball in practice in Berkeley, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

"It's not what people see, but it's one of the most vital parts of your program, if not the most vital part, because if they don't do their work in there they're not getting strong enough, fast enough, or able to stay healthy."

Dykes expects a healthier team this fall. In analyzing the source of last season's injuries, he was convinced that training deficiencies were not the culprit.

The Bears weren't hit by a series of shoulder or hamstring ailments, which could signal shortcomings in preparation. Instead, there were lots of knee and head injuries, which Dykes suggested are unrelated to strength and conditioning.

He does plan one change. Because the Bears were so young the coaches lengthened late-season workouts to get players ready for game day.

"Typically, you scale back practice late in the season," Dykes said. "We did just the opposite."

"We believe guys were getting hurt when they were tired," Harrington said.

Getting stronger, healthier, more experienced is a process, said Shaw, who is 34-7 in three seasons since taking over Stanford's program from Harbaugh.

"You start to get better, more athletic players, but you have to have a (strength) program in place," Shaw said. "I know that's what Sonny's doing now to where you're training guys in the offseason to limit those injuries.

"I have a lot of confidence over the next couple years you'll see those injuries go down."

Dykes likes the direction his program is going, but acknowledges weight-room gains are merely an offseason measuring stick. The first meaningful returns will come in the Bears' season opener, Aug. 30 in Evanston, Illinois.

"The real data that matters, quite frankly," Dykes said, "we're going to find out against Northwestern."

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

FORGETTABLE FIGURES

Some of the discouraging numbers from Cal's 2013 season:

45.9

Cal's defense was last in the Pac-12 and second-to-last in the nation, allowing 45.9 points per game.

66.7

Cal allowed foes to convert on 66.7 percent of fourth downs, worst in the conference.

-15

Cal's turnover margin of minus-15 (28 lost, 13 gained) ranked second to last in the nation.