By Steve MullinsAssistant Sports Editor
San Diego State linebacker Brian Berg is like everyone else — hewants respect. He doesn’t want it from his teammates, his coaches orSDSU’s fans. He knows he already has it from them.
He wants it from Rocky Long.
Long was Berg’s position coach at UCLA. Berg said Long told him,that at 6 feet, he was too short to play linebacker at the Division Ilevel. Berg said he told him he’d never play at UCLA.
Which for Berg, was what he always wanted.
Playing football for the Bruins was a lifelong quest. His father,James, had lettered there from 1969-72. Naturally, Berg wanted tofollow in his footsteps.
In 1996, Berg was invited to walk on at UCLA. Berg said Bruinscoaches told him to play a season and prove himself. So Bergcomplied. He went out and earned the defensive scout team player ofthe year award. The following spring, he continued to impress. Atthat point, everything was fine.
Until, he said, Long gave him the bad news.
“He came to me and told me I’d never play,” Berg said. “At thetime, the most important thing for me was playing football. I lovedthe school, but I wasn’t playing. I knew I could go to a juniorcollege, get playing time, then get a scholarship.
“I didn’t feel like sitting around for four years not playing.”
So Berg packed up his things and headed elsewhere. However, itwasn’t as easy as it sounds.
“Everythingabout UCLA had been what I was raised on,” Berg said. “When I was ababy in my crib, I had UCLA pajamas. I had gone to every UCLA/USCfootball game since 1986. We had season tickets all my life, so itwas real difficult to turn around, and tell the school of my dreams Iwas leaving. If I would’ve gotten even a little bit of playing timein my first year, I would have stayed.”
Berg eventually ended up at Saddleback Junior College, where hespent the next two seasons. While at Saddleback, he set a schoolrecord for tackles in a game (24), and in a career (241). He wastwice named team MVP. As a sophomore, he was an honorable mentionjunior college All-American.
“He loves to play the game,” said SDSU linebackers coach CharlieCamp. “He wasn’t satisfied with things at UCLA and had to go tojunior college to prove himself all over again. He wouldn’t give upand that’s why he’s here today.”
In 1999, Berg played in 10 of the Aztecs’ 11 games. Though herecorded just 23 tackles, they were enough to make him this season’sleading returning tackler among the ‘backers.
As a result, SDSU head coach Ted Tollner expected Berg to be his”go-to guy.” He expected Berg to lead with his voice, but also withhis play.
“It always comes back to production,” Tollner said. “Beforeanybody wants to listen to what comes out of your mouth, you have tobe a guy who is committed, who goes hard, who makes plays. Brian doesthat.
“He is a player who totally commits to the game. On a daily basis,in practice and in games, he has a way of revving himself up andgetting everything out of his ability. He plays with a very physical,focused nature.”
One thing Berg has focused on all season is this Saturday’s gameagainst New Mexico. Why the Lobos? Because of their head coach, whojust so happens to be named Rocky Long.
“Nobody likes to hear that they can’t play at this level,” Tollnersaid. “In Brian’s case, he had to go out and prove it. We’re glad hedid and we’re glad he’s here.
“Rocky Long is a good person. I’m sure he’d be happy for whatBrian has done, because as football coaches, you want guys tosucceed.”
Long was not available for comment at press time.